Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Final Member

In September, I'll be in Iceland for a couple of days, so in preparation I'm doing what all good world travelers do to prepare for immersion into a different culture, I'm watching Icelandic movies.  This is a surprisingly easy task as cinema is the largest industry in Iceland, so even non-Icelandic films have plenty of obviously Icelandic names in the credits. This year at SIFF, there is only a couple of Icelandic films. One of these is The Final Member, a documentary about the Icelandic Phallological Museum and as such essential viewing for a traveler. 

This documentary is centered on Sigurdur Hjartarson, or Siggi as he's called in the film, who was given his first phallus, a bull's penis, as a gift from an instructor which led to this life long habit of collecting penises. His collection of penis bones and jars of preserved members became a bit larger than the typical living room conversation piece and so the Icelandic Phallological Museum was born claiming to contain specimens from every species native to Iceland.  By filming of The Final Member, Hjartarson considered the collection complete except for obvious omission, the human penis. And this is the real subject of this documentary. Siggi's quest to obtain that last perserved specimen for the museum. 

First there was Pall Arason, a famous Icelander, known for being a womanizer. Sigurdsson was pleased that Pall was willing to donate upon his death as it would be fitting to have the first human specimen be from an Icelandic man. But despite Arason being advanced in years, Icelandic men live longer than any on earth, so there is no guarantee that Sigurdsson would live to see the day the Icelandic donation would arrive. But an American, Tom Mitchell, has also contacted the museum and is very eager to have his penis be the first on display. At this point, the documentary takes a strange turn and Sigurdur Hjartarson's passion for collecting penises is demoted to a charmingly quirky past time in comparison to the lengths some will go to insure that their penis will be memorialized for generations to come. 

The Final Member is informative and often very funny. Not only does one learn fascinating facts about the penises of other mammals, but it is also a portrait of some charmingly eccentric people who live in a suitably quirky place. Just the fact that the Icelandic Phallological Museum has been a tourist destination since the 1990s is an amusing fact, but the island country with a population of only 300,000 that is intensely patriotic is equally engaging. I had hoped that seeing The Final Member would allow me to be able to skip a museum, but if anything, it makes me more curious to see Siggi's collection in person.

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