I occasionally text while I drive. I will also take phone calls and change the music to which I listen to. I have told my partner while driving that I can handle the task of changing the music, even though she is completely available and willing to do so. I cite hands-free capabilities like Siri as reasons why people can operate their smart phones will driving a vehicle. I like to think that I am like many other people, but maybe a bit better because I never speed and am an otherwise competent driver.
Until the day that I kill someone because I was distracted by my phone. That day hasn't come yet, but if I continue my behavior, it will. I will be astounded that there are far more dangerous drivers on the road than I, yet I was ultimately responsible for the death or maiming of an individual because of my inability to drive without distractions. This is unacceptable and I refuse to allow it to happen. After all, how hypocritical is it of me to lambaste speedy drivers while I nevertheless use my phone as a driver?
Werner Herzog's documentary short, "From One Second to the Next," provided the impetus for this change of heart and planned change of behavior. Although I have seen only Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Herzog, it is my understanding that his production of a public service announcement that is sponsored by major cellular corporations, AT&T, T-Mobile et al., is a break from the norm for the auteur. Herzog is alternately fascinated by the distant past (in the case of Cave) or by the immediate present (his newest doc about the Internet, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World). His apparent interest in an issue that is similarly of the zeitgeist--texting while driving--shows his versatility as a filmmaker, even setting aside his lengthy, storied career as a feature director. The gravitas he brings to "From One Second to the Next" elevates the film from what could have been a dime-a-dozen, hand-wringing, sketchily made harangue to a meditation on grief, forgiveness and the fragility of life.
Herzog, whose usually omnipresent narration is conspicuously absent, recounts in brief four different stories, all involving victims of texting drivers (the lot of whom are young people). In some cases, we hear from the victims' families, as it is with Xzavier, an adolescent boy who is now paralyzed from the diaphragm down. In others, we hear from the perpetrators of the tragedies when their victims are dead. Invariably, the story consists of a senseless violent and entirely avoidable situation that imprints lasting physical consequences on the victims and incredible guilt on the part of the drivers we meet (only two of four appear in the film). Herzog films his interviews in a straightforward fashion, but edits them in a way that allows you to see the intense emotion that a more workmanlike director would elide in the name of brevity. Herzog instead dwells on the faces of both victim and perpetrator alike in order to emphasize the humanity of the film's message.
Given that this is a public service announcement, there is little subtlety to that message. But when the issue is as urgent as this one, there is no subtlety required. In fact, a more studied approach would drain this film's impact. Herzog is an excellent choice not because he works without nuance, but because he is unafraid to hammer home his point and possesses the skills to do so in an artful manner. There are few films that I have seen that have given me such urgent cause to alter my behavior as "From One Second to the Next," so I am proud to tell everyone else about it.