Size simply does matter to Judge Gordon Sullivan.
The world's only penis museum needs one last endowment…
Imagine spending over thirty years collecting something, so much time and so many things your spouse insists you get them out of the house. So, you open a museum to showcase your unique collection. People visit from all over the world, marveling at your breadth and dedication. And yet, after decades of collecting, the prize piece is still missing. I bet it would haunt you, that missing piece. That's exactly the position Sigurður "Siggi" Hjartarson, the subject of The Final Member, finds himself in. Except I'm guessing most readers, when I said "collecting" thought of baseball cards or figurines. In Siggi's case, he collects specimens of the mammalian penis. Starting with a joke bull's penis he was given as a gag, Siggi has been collecting specimens for 37 years, opening the world's only penis museum—the Icelandic Phallological Museum—when his collection threatened to overtake the house. But his prize specimen, a human penis, remains elusive after all these years. The Final Member gives us a look at Siggi, his museum, and the attempt to complete his massive collection.
Facts of the Case
Siggi is more than 70 years old and has been running the museum for over a decade. Through interviews with his family and friends, we get a portrait of the man and his interests. The focus then shifts to his attempts to acquire a human specimen for the collection. There are two contenders. One is an aged Icelandic adventurer, Páll Arason, who is famous in his native land for his prowess with women. The other is Tom Mitchell, an American who thinks so highly of his penis (which is dubbed Elmo) he wants it preserved for future generations to admire. Mitchell is so dedicated he's willing to have Elmo removed before death. The narrative follows these three men as they prepare for the completion of the Phallological collection.
Let's get this out of the way up front: The Final Member is a film about a penis museum, and isn't afraid to show us a variety of penises. There are fresh specimens—the film opens with a view of some recently-removed aquatic mammal penis—there are specimens in jars, and there are several shots of penises still attached to the men in the film. None of these shots are in the least way pornographic or titillating, instead offering a more medical/biological view of the organ in question. Still, if you're uncomfortable seeing full frontal male nudity, The Final Member probably isn't for you.
Those willing to get past the penis will find a strange, beautiful, and strangely beautiful documentary. The film's main subject is Siggi and his collection. Many experienced documentary viewers will be primed to find Siggie a glassy-eyed madman, a proselytizer of the penis, obsessed with organs of reproduction. Instead, in interviews (where, it should be noted, he speaks impeccable English) Siggi is warm, articulate, and funny. He collects for the same reason most people collect, because he's interested in the subject and wants to explore its variety. His day job was as a teacher, and the pedagogical impulse is all over the museum's project. The Final Member makes clear that Siggi wants to break our taboos surrounding discussions of the penis, and he has a bit of the trickster's joy in breaking boundaries.
The film's true glassy-eyed madman is Tom Mitchell. He is exceedingly proud of Elmo and will go to great lengths to see "him" get the attention Mitchell feels he deserves. I don't want to give away what happens as the relationship between Mitchell and Siggi develops, but I will say the filmmakers could not have made up a character as weird and proud as Mitchell. His Icelandic opposite number, Arason, is a much less odd man of 90+ years. We learn a bit more about his back story and his desires to see his penis preserved. Though Siggi and Arason are the more sympathetic characters in the film, Mitchell's oddity really sets them off, making for a film that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Drafthouse Film's The Final Member (Blu-ray) does the film proud, with a 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded HD transfer that showcases some strikingly beautiful shots of Iceland and plenty of detail in close-ups. Colors are properly saturated, and black levels stay consistent and deep. That said, the presentation isn't mind-blowing, but does a rather understated job of serving the material. So too with the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. There's a mix of English and Icelandic spoken, and both are clean and clear from the front (with both forced subtitles for some moments, and optional English SDH subs available). The surrounds are mainly used for the film's score, which is wonderful and well-used in several dialogue-less sequences.
The film's main extra is an 11 minute "tour" of the museum, where we get to see particular specimens with Siggi offering his commentary on the various pieces. My only complaint is I wish there was more, both of the museum and of Siggie. The film's trailer is included, as well as a Digital Copy, and a small booklet with profiles of the three leads and a poster that reproduces the donation letter scene in the film…blank, of course.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can't say I was looking forward to The Final Member and all its penises. However, what I did not expect—and what viewers should probably be warned of—is that the film can be a bit gory. On at least two occasions, we see Siggi prepping fresh specimens, which involves slicing into penises like a high school biology dissection. There are definitely places where the squeamish will want to look away.
Perhaps the only real complaint I can muster about the film is that it probably won't have a lot of replay value. Sure, some people will want to surprise house guests with "Hey dude, have you seen the crazy penis documentary?" But, for most, once will likely be enough.
The Final Member has pretty much all you could ask for: an interesting set of characters, a strong narrative arc, and a subject most people aren't going to know a lot about. Though some might think the film aimed squarely at penis-lovers, it's actually a wonderful portrait of one man's abiding interest in collecting. There's nothing seamy or sordid, and it comes highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Drafthouse Films
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