Published May 04, 2012It's appropriate that a documentary about a penis museum take on the thematic trajectory of identity and purpose as either an externally defined legacy or a tangible signifier. It's like the literal manifestation of male social motivations are made transparent by the phallus subject, snidely noting that the picture of success is little more than an exaggerated dick measuring contest.
Such an observation wouldn't be lost on museum proprietor Sigurdur Hjartarson, whose normalization of severed penises as his life's legacy has given him a sense of humour about the subject, when not translating foreign literature into Icelandic and working on obtaining the titular "final member" – a human penis.
Years before the documentary started production, Hjartarson actually found a subject willing to donate his goods pre-mortem. Ninety-five-year-old Pall Arason stepped up to the plate, making it known that such a display would highlight his extensive sexual proclivities as a defining life achievement, having a diary filled with hundreds of sexual conquests, not including European hookers. But as he approaches his eternal slumber, the side effects of entropy and decay may have shrunken his peter to less than five inches, which, according to Icelandic legend, is the legal length for a Johnson to be considered legitimate.
Enter patriotic American Tom, whose girth-y seven-incher, named ELMO, is, according to Hjartarson, "a fantastic specimen," which makes the film a bit of an ersatz race to see whose penis will be pickled first.
Directors Math and Bekhor try to focus on this quest for peen in the final chapter in the life of a man that sculpts penis gavels and canes, occasionally making bowties from penis skin, for fun. It gives the doc an oddly melancholic tone of one's life purpose as an arbitrary quest filled with achievements constrained by logical limitations. And this mostly works in reference to Icelandic horn dog Arason and the museum curator himself, but the inclusion of the American muddles the tone with a garish freak show.
Tom actually plans to have his penis severed prior to death, so that he can travel around with it on a self-designed plaque, using it to promote his comic book, which, terrifyingly enough, is about a super-powered, levitating penis in a cape that acts as a Superman of sorts, only more literally symbolizing the obvious phallic implications of superhero ideology. He also has a tendency to write Hjartarson long-winded emails about the importance of how his cock should be displayed in the museum, including attachment photos of his man-wand dressed up as Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln.
While genuinely shocking to witness, it jumbles the tone of the film, which vacillates between comedy and pathos, having a hard time filling a feature runtime with the subject. This makes for occasional repetition and a vaguely amateurish vibe, which is fortunately compensated by the many alarming events that occur.
Additionally, the representation of a penis exhibition as an extension of greater metaphor for male identity is in and of itself hilarious. (Otis Jones)