With: Sigurdur Hjartson, Pall Arason and Tom Mitchell.
Directors: Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math.
Eccentricity and ego are embraced and explored in The Final Member, a documentary that begins by welcoming us inside the world’s only penis museum then gets progressively weirder.
Directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math kick off their gentle journey into the macabre in Husavik, a small, traditional Icelandic village only 30 miles from the Arctic Circle. Here, we are introduced to Sigurdur Hjartson (‘Siggi’ to his friends and admirers), a man who has curated the world’s largest collection of mammalian penises, which he proudly displays at his internationally renowned Phallological Museum.
As retirement age nears, Siggi is becoming increasingly despondent, having yet to find the one genitalia he does not have in his collection – the human male. Fiercely nationalistic, he would like the specimen to be that of legendary Icelandic adventurer and ladies-man Pall Arason, though age may have withered his once virile male-muscle. But being the museum’s first human exhibit carries with it international fame, something that American Tom Mitchell is willing to sacrifice his all for.
It is Mitchell that emerges as the film’s most compelling character, if only because he seems such a genuine oddball. In his sixties, he is immensely proud of his penis (which he refers to as ‘Elmo’) and has no qualms about having it surgically removed, balls and all, so that it can live forever in Siggi’s penile palace. Mitchell is also a patriot, so much so that he has the Stars and Stripes tattooed on the tip of his member, and soon he and Siggi are clashing, with the Icelander more determined to have a countryman’s donation on his shelf than a foreigner.
The directors take a very matter-of-fact approach to the subject and that goes a long way to saving The Final Member from just being a silly, giggly, boys-own joke. Bekhor and Math capture the integrity and passion of Hjartson, a noble and gracious man who has found much respect amongst both the academic community and the Icelandic people. Similarly, the young filmmakers cast an incisive but non-judgemental eye over the irony-free and egocentric Mitchell. Wisely, the film explores the personal lives and family ties that have supported Hjartson over the years, including his wife, children (his son inherits the Museum) and, most convivially, his brothers.
There are certainly moments of tremendous humour (such as when the specialist Mitchell choses for to perform the procedure sees his tattoo for the first time) but they more often emerge from the characters and not at their expense. Thematically, The Final Member is an account of fame and obsession; the shadow of Arason's manly legend and the frail, bent man he has become is symbolic of the fleeting nature of dreams and ego. The three-way character-study of masculine traits takes as its central image a body part most often associated with masculinity, but proves to be about a great deal more.
Be warned; the film does not skimp on the more gruesome aspects of animal penis collection (anyone keen to see what the male harbour seal must carry around all day will not be disappointed).