Finders Keepers

Posted on September 24, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Sad offscreen deaths, discussion of child abuse, some disturbing images of a severed limb
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 18, 2015

You might not think that a documentary about two men fighting over a severed leg would be funny, touching, and insightful, but it is. You might think that it would be a carnival freak show for the age of YouTube and Twitter, and it sort of is that, too, but mostly in the clips from the various television shows that got involved in this real-life gothic mashup of Southern culture, reality TV, dysfunctional families, substance abuse, money, tragedy, and two men, one plummeting from a life of wealth and privilege and one desperately aspiring for fame and fortune, both seeing the approval of fathers who are no longer here. And they became two men who fought each other for years over something the rest of us cannot imagine anyone would want.

Shannon Whisnant in a small-time operator in North Carolina, always up to some scheme or other. So of course he showed up to bid on items from a storage locker that were confiscated when the payments lapsed. He bought a small, rusty smoker and was surprised to open it and find inside a severed human leg, about mid-calf down, with the foot and toes. The film plays his 911 call. “I got a human foot.” “A what?” “A human left foot.” I love that he thinks that additional detail will somehow make a difference.

The foot belongs to John Wood, or at least it once did. It was amputated following a plane crash and he wanted to keep it. It seemed very reasonable to him once he heard that Whisnant had it that he would get it back. But Whisnant saw it as the golden ticket he always knew was coming to him, his chance for the big time. Oh, he had already appeared on “Jerry Springer,” but he had not achieved that level of fame he just knew in his heart was his destiny. He went on news shows to talk about his find. He started charging admission — $3 adults, $1 kids. He had t-shirts made. I would like to say they were tasteful but they were not. His twitter account is @fottmannc.

Whisnant met with Wood — at the parking lot of the Dollar General — to talk about the ownership of the foot. The details of the conversation are still disputed, but the next steps involved litigation. And more reality television.

The great gift of the film, which is at times hilarious and at times deeply moving, is that it takes this absurd dispute and humanizes the story so profoundly that by the end we are a part of it. It deals with the endearing and the obnoxious sides of American celebrity culture. It is abashing but also reassuring that the multi-year fight is finally resolved — with Solomonic jurisprudential nuance — by television’s Judge Mathis. But is is the almost unbearably intimate conversations with family members and the two men themselves that show us the inherent vulnerability of even those who at first seem cartoonish or grotesque.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, discussion of drug and alcohol abuse, discussion of tragic deaths and child abuse, and some grisly subject matter and disturbing images.

Family discussion: Why did both men want the foot? How did their relationships with their fathers affect their views of themselves?

If you like this, try: “Sherman’s March”

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