Werner Herzog's documentary on texting and driving will have you putting down your phone

lfarrell@islandpacket.comAugust 14, 2013 

Chandler Gerber kneels at the site of a fatal crash he caused in 2012 in Adams County, Indiana, in the Werner Herzog documentary "From One Second to the Next." Gerber was texting and driving when he crashed into a horse-drawn Amish buggy, killing three children, ages 3, 5 and 17.


Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog -- known more recently for "Grizzly Man," a beautifully composed and compelling documentary about a man who lived and died among the grizzlies in Alaska, and "Rescue Dawn," a film that tells the gut-wrenching real-life story of a United States pilot who was shot down and held prisoner of war in Laos during the Vietnam War -- has directed a new documentary.

About texting and driving.

The short film, "From One Second to the Next," was paid for by AT&T and, at first consideration, seems about as cognitively dissonant and counter-contextual as a Kurt Vonnegut-written pamphlet about prom night peer pressure.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful of boys who repeatedly remind us they paid for the limo."

"I met a man in Nigeria one time, an Ibo who has 600 relatives he knew quite well. His wife had just had a baby. And you will too if you let your friends' opinion matter to you."

Though I'm familiar with Herzog's work, I still couldn't help but picture a screechy PSA that ends in a frenetic, violin- and cymbal-heavy interpretive dance featuring the kids from my high school who walked the halls loudly singing "Les Mis" and calling our British lit teacher by her first name because they "knew her."

But the 35-minute film, available for free online, is heavy and haunting, uncomfortable and effective. It documents a dystopian present in which we appear to have already lost our humanity to the constant communication and interstitial distractions that smartphones afford us.

This is hardly a problem unique to the dopey teenage set.

While each of the four stories in this documentary could scare a person straight on its own, one was particularly difficult to watch: that of Chandler Gerber, a 21-year-old who plowed into the back of an Amish horse and buggy, killing three people, ages 3, 5 and 17. Yes, irony. Worse, he had just texted his wife that he loved her.

Gerber talks about how silent it was after the crash. He mentions it a few times. The quiet.

His first thought was "What have I done?," then it was just him, the bodies, the injured and a horse silently struggling on a long stretch of country road in the early morning.

It was quiet.

This is most interesting to me. The silence. Herzog's documentary style capitalizes on it -- forcing us to connect with the person on screen while they search for their words. But more than that it's the very thing that causes these crashes really -- our fear of the silence. Our need for constant distraction. All to avoid the boredom and monotony.

Why aren't we OK with being bored? What are we fundamentally missing in our modern brains? Great thinkers throughout human history used the silence to consider matters of philosophy and the organization of the universe. Meanwhile, I'm traveling 50 mph in an SUV balancing my wrists on top of the steering wheel so I can tap out "Haha. I hate my chin."

Not exactly words worth dying over -- certainly not words worth killing people over.

And this is really the message Herzog's PSA leaves us with: not just "don't text and drive," but "what kind of person do you want to be?"

In other words, do you want to kill someone?

Liz Farrell is the features editor at The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. Follow her at twitter.com/elizfarrell.


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