Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Final Member

The Final Member
Directed by: Jonah Bekhor & Zach Math.
Featuring: Páll Arason, Sigurður Hjartarson, Tom Mitchell.

It would be easy to make fun of the people in documentary The Final Member. It is about the Icelandic Phallological Museum – the world’s only penis museum, and its founder Sigurður Hjartarson, who has a penis of just about every species in the world display – except for a human. He considers his life work – he has been at this 40 years, and is in his 70s – to be incomplete until he gets a human penis. But getting one has proven to be decidedly difficult. And then he gets two offers – from living men – to donate the museum their penis when they die. The first is from fellow Icelander Páll Arason, who is famous in his home country for many things – including for being a womanizer. He's now into his 90s, and says he doesn’t need his penis after he dies. But he also worries about, uh, shrinkage – in his old age everything is getting smaller. This also worries  Hjartarson, who needs the penis to be of legal length – that is 5 inches, which is based on an old joke. The second offer is from an American – Tom Mitchell – who has a rather large penis, that he calls Elmo, and wants it to be the most famous penis in the world – not for him though, but for Elmo. He even wants to have his penis removed from his body while he’s still alive – and has a lot of ideas of how it should be displayed.

Yes, it would be easy to make fun of all three of these men if the filmmakers had wanted to. But that isn’t what directors Jonah Bekhor & Zach Math do in The Final Member. Instead, they treat all three of these men with respect and sincerity. Hjartarson is a man who has many different intellectual ambitions – the penis museum is just one of them. But to him, if something is not being discussed openly, than he wants to do just that. There is nothing smutty about his museum, nor his interest in penises – and surely there are museums dedicated to pretty much everything else in the world, so why not penises. Of the three, Arason is the least well defined – he is getting older so he isn’t interviewed as much – but many of his relatives are. He wants something of himself to live on – something that gave him, and according to him many, many women, so much pleasure. But the shrinkage is a concern – if it gets too small, it could hurt his reputation.

Most interesting of the three is Mitchell – who is also undeniably the most eccentric of the three. He is completely sincere about his desire to make Elmo the most famous penis in the world. He is also very strange in many ways – and his constant calls and e-mails to Hjartarson start to drive him crazy. For much of the movie, Mitchell seems like just a strange guy – but there are scenes late in the movie, where we find out some more about him that put what we know about him into context.
There is a lot of humor in The Final Member to be sure – anyone who would either run a penis museum or want his penis in a penis museum has to be a little bit funny. But it’s the sincerity and honesty of the documentary that won me over. It isn’t a great documentary by any means – but it’s a fine one, and the type of story that works best as a documentary. If this were a feature, no one would believe it.

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