Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘The Final Member’, a film you’re unlikely to forget

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The Final member
Directed by Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math
2012, Canada

Reykjavik, Iceland is home to the singular and beloved Icelandic Phallological Museum. Begun in earnest by Siggi Hjartarson out of his own home in Husavik 40 years prior, the museum now features the world’s largest collection of preserved mammalian penises. Running the gamut from a 2mm hamster penis bone to several unbelievably massive whale penises, the museum is an astounding personal accomplishment. But Siggi’s collection remains incomplete without its missing piece, its crown jewel, its Final Member–the genitalia of a human male.

How does one get to that point in life? When the last driving force in your long life is the acquisition of human penis? The Final Member offers a clue. In fact, within moments of introducing Siggi Hjartarson, this documentary elicits a deep empathy for the man’s modest ambition. Of course dude needs a human penis–he’s running a mammalian penis museum, after all. And then the film introduces you to the potential donors–two men whose penile obsessions make Siggi’s odd predilection seem a testament to innocence. The first donor is a Páll Arason, a celebrated Icelandic explorer and womanizer who has agreed to donate his penis upon his death. The second is Tom Mitchell, a Californian exhibitionist who calls his penis Elmo and offers to undergo a complete penectomy in order to be the first penis in the museum.

Whatever else The Final Member is, it certainly is unusual. Filmmakers Bekhor and Math have three fascinating individuals here, and largely let these men speak for themselves. Given the doc’s unusual stakes and absurd nature, it yields an impressive level of narrative drama. But Member is primarily a study of characters, what drives them, and where they fit into this truly wild world we live in. The most agonizingly uncomfortable moments on display are interpersonal, and the doc is at its best when it allows its subjects space to rant and rhapsodize. The narrative is satisfying enough–building steadily and dramatically to its inevitable conclusion–but the gaping disbelief Member inspires is its real boon. While not the most incredible documentary experience of the year or the fest, it’s one you’re unlikely to forget.

Fantastic Fest runs from September 20 – September 27th.

-Emmet Duff

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