Apr 21, 2023
Would you commit a crime if you knew you could get off scot-free?
Traveling abroad can be an exhilarating, mind-opening experience–but it can come with a dark side, and Canada’s Brandon Cronenberg mines this vein to brilliant effect in Infinity Pool, his third feature film. The follow-up to 2020’s excellent Possessor, Infinity Pool takes the viewer on a hellish journey into a world where justice is as seemingly cruel as those who commit the crimes. The film benefits from the presences of Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, with the former, in particular, turning in a stellar performance.
Brandon Cronenberg burst onto the scene with 2012’s Antiviral. The film, about people paying to infect themselves with infections culled from celebrities, was greeted with generally good reviews. Antiviral showed promise, but it would be another eight years before Cronenberg made good on it with Possessor. An unnerving film about a consciousness-transferring assassin, Possessor earned its director accolades from both fans and critics--and left them all wanting more. Now, nearly three years since Possessor debuted at Sundance, Cronenberg delivers the follow-up: Infinity Pool.
The movie opens with James Foster (Skarsgård) on vacation with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) in the fictional country of Li Tolqa. Foster, a writer, is struggling not only to write his next book but also to save his marriage. He has a chance encounter with an actual fan named Gabi (Goth), who invites him and Em to spend a day at the beach with her and her husband Alban (Jalil Gaspert). Foster and Em take Gabi and her husband up on their offer. The two couples head to the beach the next day, where Gabi cheats on her husband with Foster.
After a day of awkward revelry at the beach, the couples head back to their resort. On the way, a drunken Foster hits a pedestrian crossing the road, killing him. James wants to call the authorities, but Gabi insists that law enforcement in Li Tolqa is merciless and will not treat them well, as tourists are never to leave the resort. Sure enough, the next morning, James is arrested.
Gabi was right: Li Tolqa’s criminal justice system is harsh and the court rules that James must be executed at the hands of his victim's firstborn son. It is here that Infinity Pool takes its turn into the truly unsettling. James learns that justice in Li Tolqa is not only harsh but also downright bizarre. For a hefty fee, a person condemned to death can be cloned, and the duplicate then becomes a stand-in for the accused. James agrees, and he and Em are forced to watch his clone killed right in front of them.
From there, Infinity Pool descends into a nightmarish groove. Watching his duplicate die stirs something within James, and he decides to stay in Li Tolqa–much to the chagrin of his already distant wife. Gabi and Alban introduce James to a group of other Westerners who have all been accused of murdering people and, like James, found a thrill in watching their clones die. These Western tourists take James in, and he finds himself caught up in their (criminal) activities. Gabi, Alban, and the rest commit crimes knowingly, with the understanding that the only “punishment” is their clones being killed–and since they all get a sick thrill out of it, it is an ideal situation for them.
Infinity Pool asks a question: If you could commit crimes for what amounts to a slap on the wrist, would you? For the wealthy Western tourists of Li Tolqa, the answer is a resounding yes. Gabi, Alban, and the rest murder local people as well as harass the resort staff; it is the stereotype of the “Ugly American” carried out to its brutal extreme, and it is this that gives Infinity Pool its narrative heft.
It is very much a critique of Western exceptionalism: James and his “friends” are, thanks to their wealth and privilege, able to take advantage of loopholes in Li Tolqa’s legal justice system and continue their indulgent lifestyles. Infinity Pool calls out a world where the justice system favors the rich and famous.
And while it may be tempting to paint Li Tolqa’s courts as fascist and militaristic, the viewer must ask if it is in response to the very Westerners who regularly come to their country and harass the locals. No history for Li Tolqa is given (nor is their cloning process explained) but there are hints of colonialism throughout. In their attempt to modernize and bring equity to their country, Li Tolqa has merely perpetuated a cycle of their oppressors, one that disenfranchises the poor and the working class. It is not hard to see parallels with our own modern Western society in Li Tolqa.
Every so often, the media will pick up a story about a Western tourist who runs afoul of local authorities and then finds themselves in serious legal trouble. Such a scenario taps into a deep fear of humanity, and Infinity Pool plugnes right into this, injecting it with a serious dose of relevant social commentary. Infinity Pool is currently available to rent on Video On Demand.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. He’s a big, important Screen Rant writer with many leather-bound books (and comic books) and, yes, his apartment smells of rich mahogany.