Warning: This article contains spoilers for Infinity Pool.
Media criticizing the upper class is about a dime a dozen these days, truth be told. From Best Picture nominee Triangle of Sadness and the popular Netflix original Glass Onion, to HBO’s fascinating series The White Lotus, there’s no shortage of media criticizing those who have too much time and money on their hands. On that note, Brandon Cronenberg just unleashed Infinity Pool to the masses this year. Bringing his unique spin of cyberpunk dystopia to the class criticism genre, Cronenberg crafts a world that is a warped reflection of our own while looking into the mirror on himself and people that come from a place of privilege.
Infinity Pool opens up in an unnamed country where struggling author James Foster and his wife Em (Alexander Skargard and Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation. It’s your typical lavish resort that would not feel out of place in an Expedia ad, and very obviously a place where people with money stay. Here at brunch they learn about local customs and celebrations that are considered exotic. What’s particularly fascinating about the world Cronenberg crafts is that it all feels almost inhuman or fabricated. Obviously Infinity Pool is a work of fiction, its inspiration clearly rooted in realism but with an air of mysticism. Familiar like our real world but not wholly recognizable. James and Em’s vacation spot is also on a massive compound cut off from the rest of the country, not unlike vacation resorts in the real world that are closed off from the violence of their location countries. It represents safety at a price, one that only the privileged can afford.
See, the spin with James is that he’s not really rich at all. His wife Em’s father is his publisher and he coasts on her money. She paid for the travel, the hotel, the entire vacation. In fact, she pays for most everything while James works on his second book. He shows active disinterest in Em’s ideas or plans for them and seems to not have a care in the world. In his world, a world that he doesn’t truly belong to, he’s grown quite comfortable.
James and Em soon meet Gabi and her husband Alban (Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert), which is where things take a turn. Em soon begins stroking James’ ego (and other parts of him), claiming to be a fan of his work, and he soon becomes enamored. He begins to ignore the wife that essentially provides for him and soon Em convinces them to leave the compound, an act of defiance against resort rules. After a drunken evening, James hits a man walking home while driving and Em convinces them to go straight back to the resort and never mention it again. At any time James could have gone to the police and admitted fault. Instead he goes along with Em’s advice and flees the scene, his moral fiber beginning to unravel in the process. It’s only the next day when he’s collected by the police that he learns of the “infinity pool.” For a steep price, the rich can have a clone made of themselves for the purposes of legal punishment.
The only stipulation is that the guilty have to watch their own execution.
Gabi reveals later that she knew about the “infinity pool” the entire time. She and her husband have already experienced it and felt compelled to let James know about it. The “infinity pool” is essentially a “get out of jail” card for the rich. All too often we hear of people traveling to other countries and committing heinous crimes only to get away with them by either having enough cash in their bank account or diplomatic immunity. With his new movie, Cronenberg paints the literal picture of it for the audience to see by using the most excessive techniques such as the following night when James partakes in a merciless home invasion. It is quite humorous that at any time James can stop himself from doing these things but just doesn’t and this poses the question: is he becoming a worse person, or has he always been one?
Cronenberg’s social satire presents the idea that the rich and wealthy have a façade to put on, a proper “face” if you will. The image everyone sees for keeping up proper appearances. When you unmask or are left to your own devices, the true image of you comes out. That’s most apparent in the home invasion scene when James and his group toss aside their public “faces” for more on-the-nose horrific makes that are reflective of their inner selves. The animal comes out in each of them. Em decides she has had enough and decides to leave James behind as he has lost his passport, allowing him to partake in increasingly feral activities.
After a few more debaucherous encounters, James attempts to escape from Gabi’s group and she soon reveals that her infatuation with him is false and entirely fabricated. She begins to call out James for what he really is: a fraud. Someone who doesn’t belong in this world and is faking his way through it; someone rotten to his core. Plagued by a nightmare after escaping Gabi, he begins to have visions of Em laughing in his face; eventually the camera pulls out to reveal him lying on the ground in the fetal position. Is he truly having a nightmare from remorse or did Em somehow put him in a simulation to teach James a lesson and force him to face his transgressions? In a world with a fictional language and a process that allows someone to be cloned, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that the world that James is experiencing isn’t quite real. But that’s up to the individual viewer.
After a final showdown with Gabi and her crew (involving cinema’s greatest dog), James decides to finally return home. Boarding a bus to the airport, we see Gabi and the rest of her associates on the very same bus talking about a return to a mundane life. Even if the events did transpire, no one in their lives would ever know. The foreign country was their playground with no thought for anything or anyone else. Eventually, James decides to not get on the plane and return to the resort that’s now closed for the rain season. Sitting on a lounge chair, he reflects on what he experienced, eventually realizing he’s right where he belongs.
That’s the fascinating thing about Infinity Pool. Like Possessor before it, Brandon Cronenberg uses a technology-based dystopia as a warped reflection of societal aspects and issues. He never outright explains his intentions but instead leaves a trail of breadcrumbs and clues to allow the viewer to make up their own mind about what they’ve experienced.
No matter how you choose to read it, the sick, sad universe of Infinity Pool is one of the most texturally rich horror worlds we’ve been to in some time. Like any good vacation, it’s hard to leave.
Infinity Pool is available on Digital now. You can also rent the UNCUT version.