It was a little inevitable Werner Herzog would tackle the internet. It’s only the biggest revolution of the last thirty years. But while at times interesting, this documentary is too unfocused to feel especially meaningful. The central problem is that most of us already know how crazy and important the internet is. We know it changed the world, we know it’s not going away and we know it showcases some of humanities’ darkest traits. This doesn’t mean examining these ideas can’t make for compelling viewing, but to do so must take some careful understanding of the viewers previous expectations, and sadly this isn’t really done.
Structurally I can’t really figure out a consistent narrative here. The documentary is divided into segments which jump from the future of the net (through self-driving cars, slightly tangentially), going to a land with no internet and interviewing victims of internet hate speech. These don’t share any common theme in argument, other than ‘the internet is important’. Werzog can often take an idea that simple and make it powerful, like in Grizzly Man where he examines the double-edged sword of nature’s power. But here it feels just like a simple idea and nothing else.
Elon Musk comes in towards the end and I don’t really know why. He’s talking about his plans for a colony on Mars, which could have internet, but it’s so hypothetical and distant that it just feels like he’s there because they successfully booked him. He doesn’t offer any insight on the internet, or any potential concerns of the future. He disappears as quickly as he came, without forwarding or developing or anything. I was expecting him to show up more before the end, but he only does so for a few seconds. And the film doesn’t really end it just… stops. Which I’d call the most clear indication of an unfocused project.
Still, Werzog is an ever entertaining host, and certainly hasn’t lost his ability to find compelling subjects. Werzog’s greatest ability might be his knack for finding the humanity in some of the strangest people and in this film he does this well in two senses. First he talks to a woman who slept in her car because she believed it was a Faraday cage protecting her from dangerous internet… rays or something. But he gets us to understand and empathise with people like her – we get how she came to be this way. Secondly, he talks to a lot of experts and gets them to explain their highly scientific and technical areas of studies and explain them in way that’s digestible. Although that being said it is light on the very unique off-beat Werzog humour present in many of his films.
Ultimately it’s too scattergun to provide anything substantial or insightful but hardly the worst documentary ever. The end result is as ambiguous as the title itself. At times it captures your attention and at times it’s a little boring, but leaves you a little unsatisfied. And that all adds up to limbo.