Leave it to Werner Herzog to make a short documentary about texting while driving into something subtly bizarre. It’s as if he can’t make anything, nothing at all, that does not somehow display the uncanny and surreal qualities of human being. I would think it is his defining quality as a filmmaker, but I suspect it’s more his defining quality as a man.

Here, it’s all about his subjects. The victims, family members, and perpetrators of vehicular accidents, all related to texting while driving, are exceedingly normal. Too normal. Herzog doesn’t cut to avoid showing when they mispronounce a word, or when they express something about their parenting style that others might find odd. He doesn’t throw out interviews in favor of finding someone more articulate or impassioned. He shows the people just as they are. Odd, awkward, sometimes even robotic.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t plenty of pathos, plenty to go around. Herzog doesn’t spare us the tears, the shots of the perpetrators praying in the places where they killed people, the grief of those who survived.

But it’s almost as if Herzog accepted this assignment (from AT&T, incidentally) and got lost in the humanity of his subjects. Most any other director would have mounted a hermetically sealed argument, trying to avoid giving the slightest possibility for a counterargument. Not Werner Herzog. He has to show people as they really are. And so, he doesn’t leave out the possibility of forgiveness. In fact, he shows the daughter of one victim sharing an embrace with the driver who killed her father. A long one. And another, and another. It is the most discomforting moment of the entire film.

Another filmmaker might have made a better attack on texting while driving. But I think this is what makes Werner Herzog so great.

(Here is what I believe still holds as the most persuasive advertisement against texting while driving. Caution, though, it’s also the most disgusting.)

 

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