“There is more space in the house now,” says the wife of Sigurdur “Siggi” Hjartarson. It’s her only comment regarding her husband’s decision to display his collection of hundreds of carefully preserved mammalian penises — we’re talking the whole spectrum, from a mouse to a mammoth sperm whale organ — at the Iceland Phallological Museum in the small sub-arctic town of Husavik.
Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s film is like the VICE documentary that got away. Most of it chronicles Hjartarson as he strives for the final frontier: a Homo sapiens specimen to complete his collection. Describing his search for a human male donor without loosing an avalanche of bawdy puns is going to prove hard — rather, difficult — but here goes. The top candidates are a local geriatric Casanova (exemplary quote: “I’ve had all kinds of women: black, white. Never an Eskimo.”) and a creepy American who looks like the cowboy from those diabetes ads. The requirements? Just a notarized signature on some pretty lax post-mortem releases and proof that the genitalia in question exceeds the “legal length.” That’d be five inches, and yes, according to an archaic ordinance, anything shorter is court-legitimized means for divorce in Iceland.
The whole thing (not a pun) is rather grisly and obscene, as any story about anything dismembered (that one is a pun) might be. But the shock factor was to be expected from the get-go, and so it’s not all that shocking. What is compelling, however, is the weird way this film demonstrates the supreme emotional effectiveness of a simple quest narrative. As Hjartarson meanders along a rocky Icelandic coastline or drives through a batshit Icelandic blizzard and frets about being able to accomplish his goal before he dies — he’s found out he has a blood clot and maybe not much time left — it suddenly becomes a sincere tale about mortality and leaving something behind to commemorate your life’s work, even if what you want to leave behind is a room full of penises.