A penis museum. Officially, The Icelandic Phallological Museum. When directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math made this charming film about its proprietor, Sigurður Hjartarson, the museum was located in the tiny, remote village of Husavik, but it would appear that its stock has risen considerably since The Final Member made its debut at the Hot Docs documentary festival two years ago: the museum now calls Reykjavik home. Which will make it slightly easier for the world to come to this extraordinary place, and meet the man who runs it.
Though Hjartarson admits here that the museum started, in 1974, as a joke, there is nothing in the least bit crude, sniggering, or off-color about this sweet film, just as “there is nothing pornographic there,” Hjartarson assures us about his establishment. (And we can see that there isn’t.) This is a delightful portrait of a marvelous, and marvelously down-to-earth, character in Hjartarson, and of his determination, now that he is getting on in years, to complete his collection before he dies.
You see, the museum has a specimen on display from every mammal that can be found in Iceland… all but one, that is. Hjartarson needs a homo sapiens penis to see his life’s work finished. This is not so easy. While none of the penises on display, from a hamster’s to a whale’s, have come from animals that were killed for the museum or because of the museum, gathering those specimens was nevertheless comparatively simple. With humans, there’s paperwork and — far more trying — personalities to contend with. Hjartarson has two potential human donors lined up: Páll Arason, a legendary Icelandic adventurer and lothario, which would seem to make him doubly a good fit for the collection; and Tom Mitchell, an American who is so inordinately proud of his organ that he sincerely believes it belongs in a museum.
The museum may no longer be a joke, but there’s plenty that’s funny here, from expressions of male vanity to the hilarious phallic souvenirs Hjartarson carves for the museum shop; and plenty enlightening, from discussion of the taboos surrounding Hjartarson’s chosen area of expertise to matters of Icelandic folklore, which dictate a “legal length” for a male member to be appropriately satisfactory to a wife (and which is guiding Hjartarson’s choice for the human penis that will become part of his collection). But this is ultimately a poignant story about one man’s dedication and perseverance in perfecting the unique mark he will leave on the world.