Even “Siggi” Hjartarson, founder of the Icelandic Phallological Museum, admits that the project began as a joke. Now, on the verge of finishing his 40-year quest to build a complete collection of mammalian penises, he has specimens from every species except one: a human. Fortunately, a volunteer arrives in the form of Pall Arason, a famous Icelandic adventurer and well-known womanizer, who’s kept a log of his conquests throughout the decades. The postmortem donation will be exactly the sort of centerpiece Hjartarson always imagined for the space—a schlong worthy of immortality.
As unlikely as Arason’s bequest might seem, he’s not the only one determined to donate his junk. Into the fray jumps California’s Tom Mitchell, a swaggering, well-endowed cowboy type whose first wife apparently nicknamed his penis Elmo, “a long time before any Muppets characters were out there.” For Mitchell, who sends Hjartarson rambling emails about his plans for how Elmo should be presented to the museum-going public, it’s essential that his organ be “the world’s first true penis celebrity.” He gets stars and stripes tattooed on his dick head, because everyone needs to know that Elmo belonged to an American. But that’s not the half of it: Mitchell insists on landing the first human johnson in Hjartarson’s collection. And in order to beat the nonagenarian Arason, he plans to cut it off before he dies.
The ensuing competition makes it, er, hard not to root for Arason; call it The King Of Dong. But what at first seems snicker-worthy in Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s documentary quickly turns into something more humane and offbeat. Like Fast, Cheap, And Out Of Control and some of Werner Herzog’s chronicles of quixotic determination, The Final Member becomes an ode to its subjects’ lifelong dreams—however outrageous they may seem—and the legacies the men are determined to leave behind. As tempting as it is to laugh at Hjartarson’s cock-themed Christmas cutlery and his bowties made from sperm whale penis skin, he notes that his focus has always been on removing the taboo from the male genitalia, a naturalist’s instinct that seems both noble and poignant, given that his own health has begun to falter. The Final Member boasts a stranger-than-fiction subject so odd and funny it almost couldn’t miss. But Bekhor and Math make the film much more than a limp gag.