THE FINAL MEMBER – Fantastic Fest Review
We’ve all been there, regardless of which side we’re on, hearing complaints of men being obsessed with their, um… let’s call them members for the sake of a family-friendly review. With that said, it’s a tired — if not occasionally accurate — stereotypical sort of debate. An ageless battle of the sexes, if you will. So, I must admit that when I first heard of a new documentary that’s all about a man obsessed with “members” of all types, my mind began to shut down in response to what I was sure would be a lousy film. Oh, boy… was I wrong!
As much as I would love to tell you this film has no Freudian content, I would be a bald-faced liar if I did, so what I will tell you is that THE FINAL MEMBER is an absolutely mesmerizing documentary that takes ownership of all that Freudian stuff and uses it to it’s own advantage, resulting in one of the most entertaining, intelligent and emotional non-fiction films in some time. Co-directed by Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math, this film will undoubtedly weasel it’s way into your heart, one way or another. Emotionally, its as heartbreaking as it is uplifting. It will often make you laugh, occasionally forcing you into a double-take, but also pull at your strings at times as characters’ hopes and dreams follow the roller coaster ride of becoming a reality.
THE FINAL MEMBER is set in the northern Icelandic town of Husavik, an ironing locale given the subject matter. How do you think your member would react to being thirty miles from the Arctic Circle? The film is primarily centered around Siggi Hjartarson, the founder of the Icelandic Phallological Museum – the world’s only penis museum. Husavik is home to this museum, where the founder has accumulated an impressive — if not, at first, curiously off-putting — collection of members representing virtually every mammalian species on the planet… except for one. In the forty plus years this collection has taken to assemble, the one and only member — the “final member,” if you will — that is missing is a human specimen.
I’m utterly shocked and pleasantly surprised at how candidly THE FINAL MEMBER flows, rolling through the audiences collective mind with such smooth coolness and maturity, while also remaining just quirky enough to be entertaining without becoming degrading. Bekhor and Math clearly had their heads — no pun intended – in the right places making this film, as the ratio of respect and tastefulness to humor and openness about the subject matter couldn’t be any closer to perfect. The museum’s founder wears his intent on his sleeve, devoted to using the museum to help society get past its awkwardness towards sex and the male genitalia. How’s that for a mission in life?
As compelling as this already surely has you hooked, THE FINAL MEMBER is not focused entirely on the museum and its founder. Just as the audience gets comfortable around the man with many members, we’re introduced to his two most promising potential donors. Yes, donors… as in, men willing to donate their members to the museum for the benefit of all mankind. Is there a greater purpose in life? If you though the film was incredible before, it gets even better once the race begins to be known as the first man to have their member displayed in the Icelandic Phallological Museum. The contenders: a locally famous, once-adventurous Icelandic ladies man in his 90s versus an upper-middle-aged, well-endowed Texan whose member is affectionately named Elmo; allegedly not affiliated with Sesame Street’s Elmo.
THE FINAL MEMBER becomes a sort of battle of personal patriotism between these two potential donors, while the museum’s founder is stuck in the middle simply waiting to receive the donated member, whosoever comes first. (Really? Minds out of the gutter.) The second half of the film focuses more heavily on these two donors and the process by which the donors’ eligibility is verified, including having one’s member plaster cast for a mold to be sent as proof the member meets the minimum “legally required length of 5 inches.” You heard me correctly. As the saying goes, “truth is often stranger than fiction” and that certainly applies here, especially in the case of the Texan and his Elmo, whose adventures together range from a strategically tattooed stars and stripes to a concept for a comic book.
All silliness aside, this really is a smart, genuinely sincere documentary about real people with really unique stories. As the filmmakers’ first feature-length outing, this is an even more impressive accomplishment. If ever you wondered how such a film could be made and be taken seriously, this is it. If ever there was a film about the human penis that you simply must experience, THE FINAL MEMBER is the film that fits just right.