When a documentary interviewee says, "My dad has been collecting penises as long as I remember," you know you've entered some unusual film territory. Such is the case of "The Final Member," which revolves around the Icelandic Phallological Museum, an exhibit hall devoted to preserved male genitalia from a variety of mammalian species except one: human.
And it's the quest for that holy grail of specimens that drives much — frankly too much — of co-directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math's decidedly quirky, at times unappetizing film.
Fortunately, there's an intriguing protagonist: the museum's obsessively devoted curator Sigurdur "Siggi" Hjartarson, who's also a humanist, educator, author and family man. His systematic interest in phalluses began in 1974 when he received a bull's penis as a gag gift. But it was no joke when, in 1997, he opened his taboo-busting museum, located 30 miles from the Arctic Circle.
More recently, though, as the aging scholar mulls retirement, the film finds Hjartarson on his career-defining mission to ensconce a human penis in his museum. He has two possible donors.
The first is local nonagenarian Pall Arason, a celebrated adventurer and womanizer who's agreed to posthumously leave behind his much-occupied manhood (though, TMI, elder shrinkage is a concern). It's a weird, sad little journey.
Then there's 50ish Tom Mitchell, an eccentric, wildly narcissistic California rancher who wants his penis, nicknamed Elmo, to be world-famous while he's alive — now, in fact. The lengths he travels to make this "dream" a reality are nutty and disturbing and serve to alienate Hjartarson, not to mention the viewer.
Smartly, the filmmakers minimize their topic's punchline potential. But even though the running time is brief, the movie feels stretched out. Perhaps the curious subject matter would have been better served in, er, short form.
"The Final Member." MPAA rating: R for phallic images, sexual references, graphic nudity and brief language; in English and Icelandic with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes. At the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, Los Angeles.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times