Never one to ooze predictability, filmmaker — and "Jack Reacher" action baddie — Werner Herzog has released his latest film, which just happens to be an epic PSA warning against the dangers of texting while driving. If this seems like the latest eccentric move by a man who's already allegedly pulled a gun on actor Klaus Kinski, made a film on an island with a volcano that almost exploded, got shot with an "insignificant bullet" during an interview and rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash, then maybe you're right. But it's entirely sincere, and entirely terrifying.
Told in the somber but distanced manner of his death row portrait, "Into the Abyss," "From One Second to the Next" is a 35-minute exploration of a handful of stories of car accidents caused by drivers whose eyes were on their phones, not the road. Each story is horrific, especially because Herzog doesn't rush through them but take his time, listening to every detail and showing every last ounce of remorse and sadness.
It is, of course, still a PSA, and even ends with the subjects telling viewers, straight-up, to please not text and drive. But it's not too much of a stretch to see how it fits in with Herzog's other work, as well as his worldview. The focus isn't simply on the tragic accidents. The short also ruminates on the horrors of chance. People become victims or accidental murderers out of the blue. One victim, who survived but experienced debilitating trauma, speaks of not even remembering the accident — of going blank and waking up in the hospital. Perpetrators regret one second of stupidity, even if it was something they did all the time. Life can change rapidly, with no warning. Awful things can happen to good people, or good people can do awful things.
There is no maliciousness in the film, and even — as in "Into the Abyss" — a rather staggering, even heartwarming, degree of forgiveness. Herzog treats the victims and their assailants equally, and gives the sense of the heaviness of their burdens, be they mourning the dead or also mourning their foolish actions. All PSAs should be this terrifying. (You will want to promise Werner Herzog personally to never text and drive.) But not all PSAs are this worldly and sage.