Makes for a very funny and bizarre documentary.
The Final Member
With so many documentaries relying on the same old bag of tricks to tell their stories (talking heads, animations or re-enactments or cutesy ways of presenting statistics just to name a few of the more prevalent ones), sometimes the content needs to be compelling enough to overcome a rote visual presentation. Thankfully Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math, the two directors of The Final Member, have found one hell of a story to focus on. Sigurdur Hjartarson (or “Sigi”, as his friends and family call him) lives in a small Icelandic town and has the honour of curating the only penis museum in the world. Sigi has spent decades collecting the genitals of every different mammal on the planet, but he hasn’t been able to secure a human specimen for his museum. The Final Member follows Sigi’s quest to finally display a human penis in his museum.
Sigi doesn’t exactly fit the kind of mental image people would create if they ever thought of who would run a phallological museum; he’s happily married with children, and everyone supports his business. Sigi is really just a family man who chose a very peculiar hobby to take up. The weirdness factor ends up coming from the people willing to voluntarily donate their organs post-mortem. The first donor is Páll Arason, an Icelandic man in his 90s. He’s a well-known figure in the country, and he’s so proud of his sexual prowess (he has a journal where he lists every single woman he’s been with) that he wants his penis preserved for all to see. The second donor is Tom Mitchell, an American in his 60s who so desperately wants his “Elmo” to be the first human penis in the museum that he’s willing to surgically remove it.
Bekhor and Math are smart enough to understand that the comedy in such a surreal scenario doesn’t have to be forced. The doc’s subjects may be interested in something others would scoff at, but their commitment is 100% serious, and Bekhor/Math treat them seriously instead of mocking or going for cheap jokes (there is one notably bad exception, but it’s brief). The hilarity of the situation really doesn’t need any guidance or emphasis from the filmmakers, as the comedy just comes out naturally. When Tom goes to San Francisco to speak to a surgeon about removing his penis their conversation, while serious, can’t help but cause laughter as the doctor tries to calmly explain the Hippocratic Oath.
Tom provides much of the film’s humour, but when it becomes apparent that he wants to build a brand around his penis (including a comic book series!) things get a little problematic. There’s a feeling that, by filming Tom and letting him show off his plans for “Elmo”, the filmmakers are indulging his crazy fantasies. At one point Tom gets the American flag tattooed on the head of his penis (so that, when it’s on display in the museum, people can know where it came from), a scene that looks like it wouldn’t have happened if cameras weren’t rolling to capture it. That issue aside, . It’s a film filled with moments that are so utterly strange, like when an Icelandic TV show tries to make a plaster cast of Aranson’s penis with disastrous results, it’s hard to believe they even exist. What The Final Member lacks in ingenuity is made up for by sheer insanity.