Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Final Member: Would you join this club?

Even the most clinical of documentaries is bound to elicit a few chuckles when the subject at hand is the search for a human penis to be the climactic exhibit in the world's only museum dedicated to the phallus. But The Final Member (which had three screenings at last week's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival) doesn't go for cheap and obvious laughs but instead strikes a pleasing balance among humour, poignancy and science.

The film by directors and Upper Canada College graduates Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math revolves around a quest by Sigurdur Hjartarson to acquire a human penis -- which would complete his collection of mammalian specimens -- for the Icelandic Phallogical Museum that he's built over four decades of collecting. Two men emerge as prime candidates: Páll Arason, an Icelandic adventurer who claims to be the country's most prolific lover, but who's nearing the end of the line at age 95; and Tom Mitchell, a patriotic American who calls his penis Elmo, has the stars and stripes tattooed on the head of it, dresses it in costumes and wants to create a comic book with Elmo as the superhero star.

One more thing about Mitchell: he wants to donate his penis to the museum while he's still alive.

Hjartarson would prefer Arason's penis to be the first since he's a national celebrity in Iceland, but age is taking its toll and it's starting to shrink. And in this case, size really does matter since Icelandic folklore stipulates that the "legal length" of a penis is five inches.

Arason went through a disastrous (and unintentionally hilarious) plaster casting of his penis years earlier, but it was destroyed almost as soon as it was created. Mitchell, meanwhile, has very specific plans for how he wants his penis presented once he has it removed. But Hjartarson finds him too demanding, and their phone and email relationship grows as frosty as a winter morning in Iceland.

With Arason lasting longer than a guy who swallowed a case of Viagra and Mitchell making Elmo into somewhat of a prima donna, Hjartarson comes to terms with his own failing health and mortality so he pledges his penis to the museum upon his death. The race, as odd as it seems, is on.

While Mitchell meets with doctors and consults with scientists about removing and preserving Elmo, he seems to be a lot of talk with little action. And when Arason finally passes away and carries through on his promise to donate his penis, it looks like he'll be the first human inductee into the museum. But the suspense rises when Hjartarson receives the member and has to examine it to see if it qualifies to appear on one of the museum's shelves.

Was 95-year-old Arason the legal length? I won't give the answer away since I'm sure you'll enjoy sitting through this 75-minute film enough to find out for yourself.

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