“Mister Organ” stares long into the abyss of narcissism, long enough that it can’t look away. In one of its arresting, if not reckless feats in doc filmmaking, made possible by the on-screen suffering of its invested director, David Farrier, the movie makes you also curious about someone you would never want to meet, a mysterious New Zealander named Michael Organ. By the many accounts captured here, including Farrier’s own, Michael is an all-star narcissist. Later into this fascinating movie’s experience—scarier than a Blumhouse joint, more torturous than a “Saw” sequel—someone describes Michael as like an “evil spirit.” But there’s nothing supernatural or stranger-than-fiction about the jaw-dropping life Farrier presents here. At the risk of his sanity, Farrier has bottled one of the darkest ways a law-abiding human can be made.
Farrier’s last venture into feature documentaries was “Tickled,” an odyssey (co-directed by Dylan Reeve) through the underworld of tickling porn that later clashed with its hierarchy. “Mister Organ” also starts simple and strange enough. He’s drawn to eccentrics with power, and his “Farrier vs. Goliath” brand of journalism often has him going face-to-face with people you barely believe reading about them. Early into the sometimes testy slow burn of “Mister Organ,” Farrier states, “This is exactly my kind of weird mess.”
He learns about Michael in his latest chapter: a story in 2016 about a middle-aged man who has been clamping people’s parked cars outside an antique store when it was closed at night. The store owner, Jillian, has cast him as the store’s director and mouthpiece. The two originally make a good deal of money and controversy from the clamping, which draws the curious Farrier in. First as an online journalist, then with cameras rolling over his shoulder. It’s a trap. Farrier does not make it out unscathed, nor do we.
Farrier’s research originally begins with news clippings—Michael once claimed to be a prince when he was in court for stealing a boat. He has different legal documents with his name spelled differently. He’s often taken to court and usually wins because he can represent himself so fervently. He has a handful of traumatized ex-roommates from various hazy chapters of his life who talk about being psychologically worn down by Michael, sometimes to the point of ideation. One roommate, who helped him steal the boat and was caught, looks back at incarceration as how he broke free from Michael. As Farrier learns about these lives, many trends become clear about those Michael had set his sights on. It’s also clear throughout how many people do not want to talk about Michael. When Farrier talks to over 30 of Jillian’s friends, none of them want to go on record; a stray voice on the phone calls Organ a dangerous man.
After the antique store closes for good, Farrier makes a big mistake and takes the broken, discarded sign from the shop as a souvenir. He’s then sued by Michael and Jillian, and before he can appear in court and give it back, the sign is stolen from under his house. Farrier goes to court six hours away, is subjected to Michael’s litigious prowess, and has to pay a ridiculous fine. But Farrier keeps asking questions, to understand the whirlwind, and then the force of Michael Organ strikes by making itself more omnipotent, inflicting paranoia. He tells Farrier that “one of his colleagues” gave him a key to Farrier’s house. Michael speaks so clearly, asserting that he’s telling Farrier this because he has nothing to hide. It’s one of the many ways the film captures a narcissist’s behavior—they recite lines to you from a play you don’t even know you’re in.
Midway through “Mister Organ,” before Michael becomes even more nauseating, Farrier talks about worrying about being wrapped up in such a crazy course of events, that telling it will sound like he lost the plot. And that’s exactly what happens. Michael’s hour-long tangents and belittling interviews take over this movie and its filmmaker, and Farrier eventually talks on-camera about being bored to tears by Michael and his oppressive nothingness. But in place of a journey, of a documentarian’s control, “Mister Organ” grows a unique and terrifying power, as if Michael’s narcissism were reaching through the screen. Because of Farrier’s commitment as a storyteller, the insidious qualities that make Michael one of the most infuriating documentary subjects interviewed on camera achieve a full cinematic effect: they’re in 3-D, Dolby Surround, Smell-O-Vision, 48 frames per second. The end result of this multi-year endeavor is only 95 minutes, but its succinct editing achieves the awful sensation you’d get from seeing every bit of footage.
Farrier and his small crew keep rolling with this endurance project, which features a vulnerable scene where a teary-eyed Farrier regrets pitching the movie. But while Farrier usually leads with a casual first-person point of view, more transparency about the production and its stakes would help us better understand why Farrier has to keep sitting through hours of Michael’s monologues about nothing. For a documentary that so effectively beholds a narcissist’s grip, Farrier subjecting himself to Michael to eventually somehow complete this film (which it never becomes) doesn’t stand up next to the many tales of intimidation Farrier collects.
Later into the film, Farrier reflects on how Michael has been manipulating him, including the facets that make Michael such a world-class bullshitter. It’s the process anyone goes through when they can step back and start exorcising the narcissist in their lives. Michael’s lies and projections are all so obvious to us as he pontificates them, but Farrier’s ignorance about such a losing game is incredibly believable. It is also this movie’s primary squirm-inducing spectacle. “Mister Organ” gives good reason to think that Farrier has never encountered such a narcissist before, which makes this film significant as a ruthless cautionary portrait, however much it may be a visceral flashback for others. If you know anyone with Michael’s aura, if someone makes you feel like this unforgettable movie does, this is your sign to run.
Now playing in theaters.
Mister Organ (2023)
David Farrieras Himself
Michael Organas Himself
- David Farrier