Yes, Iceland has a penis museum.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum, the name it goes by in more serious circles, houses severed male privates of all shapes, sizes, and species, but up until recently, a human specimen wasn’t among them. The quest of two competing, would-be donors to secure that place for themselves plays out in The Final Member, a new documentary from first-time feature directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math.
On one side is Páll Arason, a noted Icelandic explorer and (as you learn in the documentary) notorious ladies’ man. Opposite him is Tom Mitchell, a California-dwelling American who is so intent on being first that he’s willing to have his member – named Elmo – chopped off before he expires.
Two men, four testicles, and a whole lot of balls between them.
There’s a touching story at the heart of The Final Member. A couple of them, in fact. Museum founder Sigurður “Siggi” Hjartarson’s quest might seem ridiculous on the surface, but it’s hard not to root for his success when you witness his infectiously sincere love for the museum firsthand. The man loves his penis hobby, and totally not in a weird way.
Then there’s Mitchell’s own plan to part with his still-living member, which is so bizarre that it threatens to overshadow everything else. Here again, the man’s total commitment keeps you invested. For all that you learn about his various motivating factors – and there are many – you never once doubt his desire to see this through.
Arason is the odd man out. Unlike Siggi and Mitchell, the 95-year-old Icelander’s story is largely concluded by the time he signs of on bequeathing his privates to the Phallological Museum. He’s just not invested on the same level that Mitchell is, probably because he’s too busy enjoying his twilight years. Or maybe he just sees the whole competition as the silly thing that it is. Arason’s concerns over old age shrinkage – while entertaining – feel flaccid alongside Mitchell’s own attempts to part with his male organs.
Blame reality, not the film; Bekhor and Math do their best to render Arason in the same absurd-yet-endearing shade as they do with the other two subjects, chatting with the elderly Icelander and peering into his lascivious past. But the material just isn’t there. The filmmakers wisely load all of this into the front of the movie, since Mitchell’s story – introduced immediately afterward – quickly captivates.
Stylistically, there’s nothing particularly special about The Final Member. A handful of eye-catching shots and more than a few slice-of-life scenes chronicling Mitchell’s efforts keep things varied, but The Final Member sticks mostly to talking-head interviews and stock footage with voiceover laid on top. Granted, between Iceland’s alien landscape and Siggi’s penis-packed museum, Bekhor and Math have a lot of good B-roll to work with, but overall there’s little visual flash to this relatively dry documentary.
That’s OK. As it turns out, you don’t really need an eye-catching presentation to keep this absurdist take on a dick-measuring contest entertaining. The oddness of it all counts for everything. The Final Member isn’t likely to rock the foundations of documentary filmmaking, but it accomplishes what it sets out to within the constraints of a short running time. After all, it’s not the size that matters.
(Media © Drafthouse Films)