Mitnick In The News
Review: ?Lo and Behold,? the Danger, and Potential, of the Digital Revolution
“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” is Werner Herzog’s documentary about the internet. For some readers, that sentence will be sufficient. One of our most intellectually ambitious filmmakers — a self-professed seeker of ecstatic truths, a tireless foot soldier of cinema — tackles what he calls “one of the greatest revolutions” humanity has experienced. The combination of Mr. Herzog’s doggedly curious sensibility and the mysteries of the digital universe seems both improbable and irresistible.
In the course of a singularly peripatetic career, that curiosity has most often taken Mr. Herzog, who will turn 74 on Labor Day, into frontier zones where civilization gives way to wildness. He has ventured into Antarctica, Alaska, the jungles of the Amazon and the forests of his native Germany in search of oddity and revelation. The web might seem like a fairly tame environment for such an adventurous temperament, but it is also the repository of — or at least the inspiration for — mind-blowingly grandiose ideas.
The devices in our hands and on our desks, and the invisible, ubiquitous networks that link them, are often seen to be ushering us toward utopia or hastening the arrival of the apocalypse. Mr. Herzog, an unseen interviewer with an unmistakable voice, seems receptive to both views. He listens to scientists and entrepreneurs celebrate the expansion of knowledge and learning that the digital revolution has brought forth, and to others who lament the erosion of privacy and critical-thinking skills. The physicist Lucianne Walkowicz explains how a solar flare could bring the whole network — and with it our super-technologized way of life — crashing down in a matter of days. On the other hand, we might build self-driving cars, perfect artificial intelligence applications that permanently erase the boundary between people and machines or even create colonies on Mars.
At times, Mr. Herzog’s imagination leaps beyond even the more startling speculations of his subjects. He is not so much credulous as excitable, given to interrupting the prose of researchers and analysts with flights of poetry. He tries to press some of them to predict the future, something scientists are generally reluctant to do. And he poses a question that charms and stumps many of them: “Does the internet dream of itself?”
Trailer: 'Lo and Behold'
As its title suggests, “Lo and Behold” is to some extent Mr. Herzog’s dream of the internet. Divided into 10 brief chapters, it is impressionistic rather than comprehensive. Many of the ideas are familiar, and some important aspects of life in the digital era are examined superficially or not at all. Though Edward Snowden’s name is dropped, there is not much attention to surveillance or spying, and the uses and abuses of connectivity as a tool of corporate and state power are barely explored.
The interviews seem to have been conducted over a few years, which gives a curiously dated feeling to parts of the film. Sebastian Thrun, a founder of the online learning company Udacity, enthuses about the transformative potential of his courses, but the widely reported failure of those courses to realize their supposed potential does not come up. Skepticism is really not Mr. Herzog’s thing. Often he seems content to burnish the myths and personality cults that color so much popular thinking about the internet.
But another way to look at “Lo and Behold” is not as an inquiry into ideas but rather as a collection of interesting human specimens. The deepest source of wonder for Mr. Herzog has always been the particular amalgamation of vanity, folly, bravery and genius that makes every individual unique. He is a patient listener with an ability to nudge his subjects off their internal scripts, and like his other documentaries, this one is full of strange, small moments of unanticipated revelation.
Whether he is quizzing networking pioneers — men around his own age who still marvel at having been present at the creation — or listening to the testimony of “modern-day hermits” living off the grid and away from pervasive electromagnetic radiation, Mr. Herzog communicates compassion and astonishment in equal measure. The internet is an elusive quarry. It’s a marvel and a menace, a banal fact of life and a force for incalculable change. But it’s also less the subject of this captivating, uneven film than an excuse for its director to add to his collection of memorable faces and voices.
“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.