Review: Written by Rian Whitton.
A wry and humoured documentary interrogating the marvels of modern technology.
Werner Herzog’s filmmaking has often been defined by operatic grandeur. From the Carpathians in his remake of Nosferatu (1979) to the spectacular Amazonia in Aquila: the Wrath of God (1972), the German maverick shows a penchant for scale and ambitious filmmaking too rarely seen.
The immensity of ‘lo and Behold’ rests not in the locations, which by and large consist of sterilised laboratories and factory floors, but in Herzog’s choice of subject; the Internet, artificial intelligence and the future of humanity.
Herzog’s interviews are varied and do an excellent job of providing clear and unique perspectives on the wide-ranging subject. An interview with an aggrieved family who suffered trolling highlights the internet’s pernicious ability to enfranchise deplorables while leaving many people increasingly vulnerable to abuse and extortion. The Mother’s assertion that the internet was a tool of Satan sounds hyperbolic, yet for an increasing number, the forced attempts to emphasise the emancipatory nature of the net no longer corresponds with the tawdry and often unsavory realities of online society.
Another topic tickling Herzog’s curiosity is cybersecurity, as an interview with a Sandia Laboratories employee regarding the Titan Rain cyber attack depicts an unruly future of online conflict. It is worth noting none of the subjects are discussed exhaustively in this short documentary, and so those enthused will have to seek further knowledge before gaining a respectable understanding of the subjects. Think of ‘lo and behold’ as a highly entertaining list of various trends worth investigating.
Popular science stalwarts like Lawrence Krauss provide entertaining insight, but the most famous interviewee is undoubtedly Elon Musk, the man increasingly representing the vanguard of technological wizardry. While Musk is suitably ambitious in hopes of a human colony on Mars, supplemented by the Internet, he eschews a awkward detachment from Herzog’s questions.
The story told is nominally one about machines and humans. But hidden beneath, there is a transatlantic undertone. Virtually all the innovation on display is in the US, particularly focused on the universities like Carnegie Mellon and tech companies like SpaceX. Herzog, a European, interacts with his American guests in ways eerily familiar to how many Europeans observe and comprehend the American drive for technological change. The interaction is often an unstable blend of wonderment and fear, endearment and skepticism.
Given there are 10 chapters, one might be concerned the documentary hangs together. However Herzog manages to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion, as talk of the internet’s past and present are gradually replaced by the existential topics; namely artificial intelligence and colonizing Mars. The film is also refreshingly short at ninety minutes. Rather than exhausting viewers, as is so often the case in modern cinema, this wry documentary will spur many to delve further into the many subjects discussed.
The documentary is available here: http://loandbehold-film.com