“Isn’t anything in this life sacred anymore? We can’t lose what we’ve got, it’s worth fightin’ for.” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Finders Keepers, a new documentary from directors Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel, chronicles the absurd battle between John Wood and Shannon Whisnant over Wood’s amputated and mummified left leg. In 2007, after failing to keep up his payments, the possessions of John Wood’s storage unit were auctioned off publicly. At the auction an “entrepreneur” named Shannon Whisnant made the decision to purchase Wood’s old grill, a decision that proved to drastically change both of their lives. Whisnant opened the grill to find the amputated leg, which John had lost after a plane crash in 2004. Whisnant believed he was the rightful owner of the leg since it came with the grill he purchased and when the media got hold of this bizarre story the custody battle for John’s leg garnered major attention from National and even International media outlets.
The film often looks around at the backstory and childhood of both men to make sense of the absurdity of the situation that allowed their paths to cross. Wood was born into a wealthy family and always felt like he was trying to impress or emulate the father whom he looked up to and was always coming up short. Whisnant, on the other hand, was born to an abusive man who never showered him with the love and attention he craved. The film does a terrific job of showing the depth and humanity of both of these characters. It never attempts to cast either Wood or Whisnant in a negative light, but rather captures the two men, with all of their flaws and quirks, unbiasedly and with tremendous honesty. While it is full of hilarity and absurdity, Finders Keepers manages to conjure up as much pathos as it does laughs.
It is very well paced and moves briskly between hilarious news clips about the foot, entertaining interviews from friends and family, and touching backstories about the hardships of both men. The film never lingers too long on a single tone, deftly switching between tragedy and riotous comedy at the drop of hat. Just as it has built up a feeling of sadness and pity it will cut to a clip of the men arguing their legal ownership of the foot outside of a Dollar General or show Shannon Whisnant bragging about his custom merchandise and “Foot Smoker BBQ” t-shirts.
It is all very funny and there is no doubt that the situation is extremely strange and makes for an interesting and entertaining story, but there is also a very serious chord playing throughout this film. It is about family, loss, regret, and not being able to achieve whatever it is in life that we all keep chasing. The amputated foot becomes a kind of symbol for an unobtainable ideal. For John Wood this is his childhood, the memories of his father, and a time before his drug addiction and the guilt he has about his father’s death. He longs for the promise of the past. For Shannon Whisnant it is a life of admiration and praise, of feeling important and special, of being famous. In essence, it is a substitute for dealing with reality and moving forward with what life has given them. Whisnant’s wife says as much in the film, saying that her husband is chasing something, but he doesn’t know what it is; it is something that can never really be achieved, something that doesn’t really even exist. This is what the amputated leg becomes in the context of this wildly hilarious and poignant film. The leg is shown several times in the film: rotted and dried out with a rich purple-red foot and sharply contrasting pale white nails, the bone poking out at the top with the skin around it solidified like “beef-jerky”. Clearly it is dead and decayed. It should be thrown out and forgotten. Some things are not worth fighting for.