Fantastic Fest ’12: The Final Member – Review


Unbelievable film documents race to complete world’s only penis museum

The Final Member is one of those documentaries so fully realized as a narrative yet so outlandish that it becomes hard to believe that the story is true. If Christopher Guest fans were shown the film and told it was the director’s latest mockumentary, many would absolutely believe that the film improvised comedy from the creator of Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. The film, a hilarious and astonishing story of the world’s only Phallological Museum, is an absolute blast and – best of all – it’s completely true.

Directed by Jonah Bekhor and Zack Math, The Final Member follows the story of Sigurdur Hjartarson, a man reaching the end of his career. Like most people who love their jobs yet are facing down an eminent retirement, Hjartarson begins to ponder his legacy and all that he has accomplished during his time curating the Icelandic Phallogical Museum, a 40-year-old institution dedicated to the penis. During his time as museum curator, Hjartarson has collected hundreds of penile specimens from around the world – from the tiny schlong of the hamster to the mammoth pecker of the blue whale. There is one animal, though, that Hjartarson has failed to collect a specimen from – the human male. The Final Member chronicles what could be Hjartarson’s final shot to complete his collection before he wraps up his time as museum curator.

The film takes its time revealing all its cards. What begins as a beautifully shot, if sterile, look at the concept of the Phallogical Museum, along with a quick tour of some of the stranger specimens on display, becomes an astonishing race between two men determined to make Hjartarson’s dreams come true. The first is Páll Arason, a 95-year-old Icelander who has lived a life of womanizing and adventuring. Knowing he is not long for the word, Arason figures he will have no use for his penis after he dies and agrees to give it to Hjartarson – the only problem is that Arason’s penis is shrinking as the man ages. Who knows how small the penis will be by the time Arason croaks and Hjartarson has standards for his museum. A shriveled up geriatric’s penis just won’t do when it comes to representing the whole of the human race in the Icelandic Phallogical Museum.

And then there’s Tom, an American who is very proud of his penis. Nicknaming it Elmo, Tom has a very complicated relationship with his penis – he has enjoyed using it throughout his life but no longer sees a need for it. Instead, he’s ready to share it with the world and sees Hjartarson’s museum as his chance to have the most famous penis in history. In order to ensure that his penis becomes the first to be donated to a museum, Tom is willing to have it cut off before he dies.

The Final Member could have easily have played itself out within fifteen minutes – better suited for a short film than a feature – if it was only about Hjartarson’s museum. While it is a lovely museum and Hjartarson a very eccentric man – he wears bow-ties made out of penis skin and eats from wooden utensils carved into the shape of penises – there’s a point where any documentary focused on genitalia pushes the limits of how much a person is willing to learn about penile obsession before the whole thing becomes a juvenile farce.

In the end product, though, it is the race between Tom and Arason that gives The Final Member the extra bit of push it needed to help the film transcend from cute story to unbelievable comedy. If Hjartarson is eccentric, Tom the American is borderline frightening in his obsession with his penis. The lengths the man is willing to go in search of fame and fortune for his appendage is astonishing and the filmmakers capture it all without condemning or mocking the man. Despite the even-handed approach to the subject, audiences will have no shortage of things to laugh at in The Final Member. The film, after a rocky first ten minutes, is an absolute riot as it weaves the three men’s stories together and further details their growing obsession with getting a human penis into the museum.  Audiences are effortlessly drawn into the drama of Hjartarson and his competing penis suitors. The anticipation of learning who will be the first to help Hjartarson complete his collection gives the documentary a beyond-satisfactory three-act structure that rivals the best narrative drama.

The Final Member is certainly not for the weak of constitution nor for the easily grossed out. It features frank discussion of people’s franks and beans and copious amounts of penile trauma. It is also an enlightening and very entertaining saga of three men’s cross-continental efforts to make the world of penile science that much more complete.

Director: Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math
Notable Cast: Sigurdur Hjartarson,
Writers: Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math