98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.
Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold” starts out like a nostalgic documentary tribute to the men and women who created the Internet. By the time it’s over, it’ll have you fretting about the end of the world.
This isn’t Herzog’s most sophisticated effort. It feels thrown together and random. But it gets the job done.
The unseen but very vocal director first takes us to the University of Southern California where down a “repulsive corridor” in a science building we encounter “ground zero of humanity’s biggest revolution.”
There in a basement room the university has recreated the computer lab from which, on Oct. 29, 1969 the first email message was sent from USC to Stanford University several hundred miles away.
It wasn’t an entirely successful experiment — the computer crashed after just two letters had been typed in.
One of the original computer geeks working on the project reflects that back then the names of everybody working online could be contained in a slim directory. He knew most of them personally.
But it was the start of very big things.
Then Herzog branches out a bit, giving us glimpses of the brave new world of technology. For example, he offers a segment on self-driving cars that learn from each other’s experiences. When one car messes up, says an expert, “future unborn cars will never make that mistake again.”
And then there’s a soccer game played by rhumba-like drones. They learn teamwork.
All good, right?
Well, no. Herzog then introduces us to a middle-class family whose emotionally-tormented daughter was decapitated in an auto accident — and who subsequently were hit with tons of hate email. The mother, who in all other respects seems pretty normal, suggests that the Internet is a “manifestation of the antichrist.”
Next we relocate to a rural area of Appalachia where all cell phones and radio emissions are banned so as not to interfere with the operation of a massive radio observatory aimed at the stars. As it turns out, this neighborhood has become a mecca for individuals suffering from electromagnetically-trggered illnesses (like the Michael McKean character in “Better Call Saul”). They can only function where cell phones aren’t in use.
How about that rehab center for persons dealing with internet addiction? Apparently it’s a real thing. Or this tidbit: South Korean teens are so addicted to playing video games that they wear diapers so as not to lose points by having to get up to use the bathroom.
An expert on solar flares enumerates the ways in which such regularly occurring phenomenon could wipe out the electric grid. It’s not a question of if, but of when. And if the internet does go dark, will enough of us know how to survive without it to keep civilization going?
Kevin Mitnick, the world’s best hacker, observes that we are constantly engaged in a cyber war that most of us don’t even notice.
There are a few brief rays of hope on display here (most provided by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk), but mostly “Lo and Behold” dwells on what can — and probably will — go wrong. Good luck, everyone.
| Robert W. Butler