It is an unfortunate state of affairs that, as far as sexuality is concerned, America is still vastly conservative. This is no place for a discussion of conservative versus liberal, but in the category of sexuality it’s important only to say that even the word “penis” despite being the proper medical term for the main part of the male genitals, is still relatively taboo. People don’t go around talking about penises, generally, and if they do they tend to make other people uncomfortable. We’re also all 12 years old at heart, and so penis jokes and snickering are sure to abound when you program a documentary about some dude in Iceland who collects penises. Fortunately, The Final Member takes its subject seriously, but not too seriously, and crafts a beautiful portrait of one man’s lifelong obsession.
Sigurdur “Siggi” Hjartarson is the Curator of the Icelandic Phallological Museum which houses the world’s largest collection of penises. Despite understandable preconceived notions about such a man, Siggi is kind and gentle, loves his family, and doesn’t appear to be a crazy sexual deviant. He’s just a normal guy who happens to collect penises. What started with a gag gift of a bull penis, has grown into a decades-long obsession culminating in the search for the one sample he’s yet to obtain…the human penis.
Enter Pall Arason, a famous Icelandic explorer and adventurer, the type of guy about whom books have literally been written. While he’s known for his explorations, he’s also a bit infamous as a noted womanizer despite his growing age. And thus it is with great joy that Siggi accepts Pall’s letter of intent to donate his penis to the Icelandic Phallological Museum upon his death. But Pall doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon and in the meantime Siggi, still on the lookout for other options, is contacted by another possible candidate.
Tom Mitchell is an American who’s crazy side is slowly revealed by the doc. You can tell there’s something off about him from the first on-screen interview, even if he wasn’t saying that he was seriously considering donating his penis to the museum BEFORE his death. There’s something in his eyes, something about the way he holds himself and the way he speaks when describing his penis and his plans for it that just scream, “hey, this dude is batshit insane.” This assessment proves spot on as the film goes on.
Siggi is obviously excited to have another possible donator. While he’d prefer the first human penis to be from an Icelander, Pall’s still going strong and what Siggi really wants is a human specimen, no matter the nationality. But it becomes increasingly clear that Tom isn’t willing to just hand it over and forget about it. He wants to dictate exactly how it’s displayed and even asks if maybe he could get it back during the museum’s downtown so he could display it himself in America. All of these are non-negotiables for Siggi and the relationship is soon strained.
Meanwhile, Tom is going ahead with his display plans, consulting a plastic molder with his designs for a display case. He even goes so far as to have a shield with the stars and stipes tattooed on the head of his penis. It should be mentioned that Tom continually and almost exclusively refers to his penis as Elmo. Tom is an older man and claims that one of his first girlfriends named it that “before any Muppets existed.” While that’s at least slightly comforting, it doesn’t make it any more strange when keeps calling his penis Elmo. Soon Tom becomes aware of Siggi’s hangups and the tension between them grows.
Despite it’s admittedly odd subject matter, The Final Member is a surprisingly heartfelt documentary. The museum itself is not a freak show, but an actual scientific museum with well-kept specimens, often visited by students. Siggi’s passion is contagious, perhaps not spreading a passion for penis collecting, but certainly encouraging passion for any subject. His obsession is at a healthy level, not getting in the way of his family or his life but pushing him to amass a fine collection nonetheless. It’s a fascinating look at a man driven by his passions and the people he draws into his world.
The Upside: Well shot and edited, telling the story in an engaging, interesting way
The Downside: Tom’s reasons for wanting to donate his penis continually change throughout the film, from a lifelong dream, to fame, to medical complications, and finally so women won’t take advantage of him. The wavering comes off as grasping at straws and while it’s not the film’s or the filmmaker’s fault, it is annoyance.
On the Side: You can visit the Icelandic Phallological Muesum online at www.phallus.is.