As he set out to make his new documentary about the internet, Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World (born out of, of all internet-y things, a sponsored web content deal), Werner Herzog considered traveling to China to document one of the country's most famous treatment centers for internet addicts—"a real toughest-of-tough boot camp." But he decided against it, in part because subtitles would have gotten in the way, and, as he told TechCrunch, he wanted to "stay more within our culture, and within our language." But it's a near universal culture and language, the internet, as evidenced by the residents at a treatment center in the west, who describe their former lives in thrall to the screen.
Herzog recounts stories like that of the South Korean couple who were so lost in a video game that their baby died. The internet security and assurance firm behind the film, NetScout, was hands off, Herzog says, with the exception of one part, in which someone recounts some horrifying comments by trolls. Herzog agreed it should go.
There's a lot more that didn't make the cut, including all the footage shot for the project's original manifestation, a web series of talking heads, but Herzog is, unlike most of us internet addicts, a seeming master of focus and slayer of distractions. That doesn't mean he won't get lost down a rabbit hole, or that he doesn't like a good tangent (and there are some good ones in the movie).
But part of the art of his filmmaking is knowing how and when to dig deep, and how and when to pull back. In the scene with the troll comments, Herzog politely asks a family—a modern image of suburbia married with Grant Wood gothic—how their daughter's car crash scene photos became a global meme, and made them victims in a campaign of lulz-fuelled harassment. "I have always believed that the internet is a manifestation of the Antichrist," the girl's mother says, without hesitation.
We're looking at something weird, and complicated, and sometimes dark, and it's hard to look away.