The Austin Chronicle

FF2012: 'The Final Member'

By Richard Whittaker, September 23, 2012, 4:00pm, Picture in Picture

If the life of Sigurdur “Siggi” Hjartarson has an anthem, it's probably Monty Python's 'The Penis Song.'

Hjartarson is the owner and curator of the world's largest, nae only, dedicated scientific collection of male genitalia, the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Please, stifle your giggles. It's a real place. If you're ever in Reykjavík, drop by to see a collection of 280 penises of various species. As Eric Idle would so tunefully put it, the collection spans "from the tightest little tadger to the world's biggest prick."

The documentary, of course, doesn't shy away from showing a lot of pork sword. And donkey dong. And dormouse penile bone. There's a beauty and a variety in how evolution has solved the dual problems of pissing and procreation, and Hjartarson's lack of squeamishness as he handles a whale willy is somehow refreshing. For him, it's just another organ, and there's no reason to be afraid of more than, say, a kidney or an ear. But he has to find one last artefact for his collection, and it's the most taboo of all: The preserved penis of a homo sapiens.

The museum is a serious and lifelong obsession for Hjartarson, who directors Jonah Bekhor and Zack Math portray as a serious and far from quirky academic. It's not prurient: If Hjartson is a crusader or taboo buster in any way, it's in his attempts to normalize attitudes to something possessed by 50% of the global population. As one academic notes, civilization ebbs and flows on its willingness to talk wang, and in this era the tide is far out.

If The Final Member is frustrating in one way, it's that it does not discuss that further. There's a thick vein (sorry! sorry!) of discussion to be had there: After all, can you imagine a contemporary artist being able to put Da Vinci's statue of David (winkle and all) on display? Could you imagine the Brussels city council commissioning the famous Mannekin Pis in this day and age? And what ever happened to the filthy old seaside postcard, where bald-pated men displayed comically long schlongs?

Instead, the drama settles on Hjartarson and his two potential donors: Adventurer and serial philanderer Páll Araso, who seeks to enshrine the myth of his womanizing ways, and Tom Mitchell, an American rancher who is happy to hand over his little friend 'Elmo' for posterity. Caught between them is Hjartarson's own obsession with finding a scientifically viable sample that will fit his display criteria. In this, the penis stand as a metaphor for life experiences and the frailty of the human body. It's not about masculinity: It's about leaving something behind, of making one last mark in the world. Look beyond the plethora of testicles, and you'll find a touching story of mortality.

Fantastic Fest presents The Final Member, D: Jonah Bekhor and Zack Math, 72 mins. Monday, Sept. 24, 12:20pm.

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