Review: The Final Member (2012)

The Final Member

© Drafthouse Films

© Drafthouse Films

In today's cinematic landscape, it seems as though so many movies tell the same predictable stories time and time again. As we watch these movies, we can be constantly reminded of the previous films that have used the same ideas and plots in the exact same manner. We see sequels and remakes and reboots galore, and we wonder just why Hollywood can't create new and exciting tales to satisfy our hunger. Luckily, film lovers have been able to fall back on the rise in documentary features, crafted by filmmakers eager to tell true and engaging stories that a screenwriter simply may not be able to imagine. One such tale revolves around the one-of-a-kind Icelandic Phallological Museum. 

The Final Member follows museum curator Sigur∂ur Hjartarson, a man who has been collecting specimens of mammalian genitalia for over three decades. In that time, he has come into possession of every mammal species know to man, save one: man himself. Eager to complete his collection amidst failing health, the curator receives permission from Páll Arason, a famed Icelandic explorer, to obtain possession of his genitalia upon his death. The elderly man shows no signs of slowing down in his old age, however, leaving the door open for someone else to beat him to the throne. Enter middle-aged American Tom Mitchell, who submits his own penis as a potential donation, and he just might be willing to part with it before his soul leaves his body. 

If the above synopsis hasn't done enough to grab your attention, let me continue by saying that The Final Member is a solid and entertaining film. It weaves a seemingly quirky idea with a very straightforward storyline that almost plays like an offbeat thriller. The story itself takes a number of twists and turns that one would expect from your average Hollywood fare, but the idea that the real-life events happen right before our eyes makes it all the more fascinating. I can't quite figure out whether the directors tried to play the situation for laughs or if the scenario itself allows for its own comedic sensibilities, but I can tell you with fair certainty that you will be hit with numerous fits of laughter as a result of either the topsy-turvy story or the three men bolstered at the center of it all. 

This particular story would be absolutely nothing without intriguing and entertaining central characters, and The Final Member offers us three from which to choose. Curator Hjartarson is a sensible man whose eccentric hobby started as a joke but soon grew to be his life's passion. We see a multi-faceted individual whose goal in life proves to be more than just finishing his collection; rather, he uses his little bit of infamy to help break down the taboos about openly discussing male genitalia. The individual we spend the least amount of time with is our Icelandic explorer, who slowly ages right before our eyes. He's a tall tale of a man whose personal story is so rooted within the story of the Icelandic landscape that his status as a living legend only helps to bolster the idea of the film and his right to his potential resting place inside the museum. If anyone truly steals the show, however, it has to be our American compatriot, who will stop at nothing to ensure he is the first man to be immortalized within the confines of this one-of-a-kind mausoleum. A true exhibitionist at heart, we see the lengths to which he is willing to go to cement his place in history. Regardless of whether you agree with his methods, you have to admire his tenacity and determination to his increasingly ridiculous cause. 

The Final Member may not be the greatest film the documentary world has ever seen, but it still manages to be incredibly engaging and entertaining through every step of its absurd journey. I can say with certainty that you will not soon forget some - or all - of these characters, and for that reason alone, The Final Member should warrant a watch. As for me, I'll be looking into just how quickly I can find my way to the small town of Husavik to stop in for a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum.