2016 – USA
Director: Werner Herzog
Words: C. Abbott
Christian attended a special screening of the film with a live broadcast post-film Q+A with director Werner Herzog and British director/ comedian Richard Ayoade, at The Showroom Cinema.
When tackling a Werner Herzog documentary there are at least a few things one should accept: cutting, dry remarks and assertions from the man himself, a lingering camera bordering on awkwardness and an almost alien gaze on humans as individuals. This is just throwing a stone and hitting some of what Herzog brings to his consistently unique observations of chosen topics, but all are present from the very opening here. This could be, on a personal view, his most compelling documentary yet. The birth and explosion of the internet and globalisation as a whole is one that continues to inspire and excite. We as a species are entering a new and entirely bizarre age of human interconnectivity, Lo and Behold, if failing at all else, achieves this sense of awe spectacularly.
Herzog here is taking a brief glimpse into the short but rich history of the internet and beyond. Everything from A.I. to Mars colonisation via The Internet of Things is covered. Looking at the opening scene again, which must be noted as the highlight of the film, showcases the very room the internet was born, and its very first communication. The intention was to send a message reading ‘LOGIN’ from one machine to another, sending the letters individually. On the letter ‘g’ however, the system crashed, resulting in the word ‘Lo’ being the original message. As such, the scientists at hand noted it as ‘Lo and Behold’. There is a feeling of wonderment and excitement in this story, human progress on the back of a coincidence. This feeling feeds its way through the majority of the film, yet it is not all propaganda for the merits of globalisation.
There is another element which is in many ways, is equally as fascinating as the former. The internet has brought up many downsides to human communication, being faceless gives a feeling of little consequence and therefore vitriol and abuse comes easy. Herzog shines a light on a few of the more horrendous stories of such manipulation. In other areas he looks at the fears people like Elon Musk have over the continued development of A.I., and how three generations from now human connection as a whole may no longer be needed in our lives. These facets of the documentary may seem unpleasant and even terrifying, where exactly is humanity heading? Herzog doesn’t linger however; the film has a brisk pace, perhaps too brisk in an effort to cover these weighty issues. Yet, as a general overview on modern technological society, it’s a must. For anyone with an avid interest on these issues and topics, the film will likely provide little new information, but the journey is an entertaining one. Herzog fusses his own, peculiar charm into the proceedings and it works as ever. It’s enjoyable, awe-inspiring, worrying and often awkward, exactly what you’d want.
As for the Q&A, it was brief but engaging, a microcosm of the film perhaps. In conversation with Richard Ayoade (a pairing made in a nerd heaven), his admiration and respect with every question shined through. A particular highlight was a question from the audience, regarding how much impact he has on the staging of the interviews within the film. Herzog’s response sums the man up perfectly. I’ll paraphrase: “I do not want to be a fly on the wall; I want to be a wasp. I sting.”