Daniel Nelson

“The Internet is the spirit of evil. It’s the anti-Christ,” says a mother shocked to the core by trolls who obtained gruesome police photos of her dead daughter, mutilated in a car crash in 2006, and sent them to the family with sneering comments.

The mother’s horror and disgust is palpable, and is delivered straight to camera in a weird tableau in which she, her husband and daughters stand and sit almost motionless behind a table full of neat rows of muffins and other baked products.

Perhaps the table was laid as part of the hospitality accorded to director Werner Herzog and the crew filming the documentary, Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World. And there is no doubt that what the family has experienced is appalling. But the scene is typical of Herzog’s approach to his film about the beginnings and future of the Internet, in that it’s arresting but not necessarily truly informative.

Herzog is not a big Internet user – he doesn’t even use his mobile phone much – and the film started out as a short promotional doc financed by security firm NetScout, but he has an ear for a quote, an eye for an image and a nose for the new.

He offers 10 short scenes (the bereaved family appears in the segment titled “The Dark Side"), starting with the birth of the Internet, continuing with its blisteringly rapid growth, and ending with a guesstimate of the future.

The film is not as original as it thinks – though Herzog asks some provocatively interesting questions, such as Can the Internet dream about itself? – but there are treats along the way. They include the story of the first words transmitted on the Internet (which explains the second part of the film’s title); a driverless car’s ethics; addicted South Korean gamers; soccer-playing robots that might one day win the World Cup; paid flights to Mars; what happens when all power is cut; a retreat by people physically threatened by wireless signals; a hacker’s self-congratulatory history.

These somewhat random sections are largely based on a succession of talking heads – technical wizards, billionaires, inventors, cosmologists – infused with wonder and passion at the world-shattering arrival of this amazing technology.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Image by Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Futurologists had no inkling of the arrival and spread of the Internet, says Herzog: “The science fiction writers of the 1950s and onward didn’t really have the Internet on the radar.

“They had flying cars and interplanetary colonies and all sorts of things, but nobody really foresaw the radical change that would take place in society.”

Steered by his curiosity and some solid (and occasionally wacky) research and using his ignorance, quiet humour and conversational interviewing technique, Herzog has made what he describes as “maybe the first coherent tour around the Internet’s horizons”.

‘Coherent’ is a bit of a stretch, but it’s thought-provoking and entertaining, even though the parts are greater than the whole.

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