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When Werner Wonders

Herzog bites off more than he can chew, again

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Broadway Theatre

If Werner Herzog’s documentaries were rugs they’d be shaggy and a little unravelled. They’re always compelling (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) and Herzog’s obsession with ecstatic truths over objective ones always results in magic. At the same time they’re structurally suspect and rarely come together in the end.

The clearest example of Herzog’s overreaching and his documentaries’ structural problems is his latest, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. In an effort to capture the Internet revolution, the German filmmaker tackles different, somewhat related topics, from artificial intelligence to trolling. Suffice it to say, each subject he picks deserves a documentary of its own ten minutes of rather shallow treatment doesn’t quite cut it.

Lo and Behold is divided in 10 sections, each of them anchored by a conversation with an authority on the matter or someone who has been affected by it. The scattershot approach leads to a hit-and-miss result: the origins of the Internet are not very cinematic, and those involved in its development may be geniuses, but they’re not the best communicators.

Herzog does find a few interesting characters with whom it’s easier to empathize — like a community of Internet “refugees” that have cut the cable over health concerns. The emotional center of the film is the testimony of the parents of a girl killed in a car accident, who were harassed by a troll with grisly pictures of the scene. More than providing a moral judgment, Herzog wonders if this is the new normal. Based on Twitter, I would say so.

Towards the end, the filmmaker embraces an even wider (and weirder) topic: autonomous artificial intelligence. Ever the humanist, Herzog wonders about robots falling in love and the future of critical thinking. He doesn’t come close to finding an answer, but there’s value in asking the question.