Review: Infinity Pool
by Elena Lazic
- Brandon Cronenberg follows up the visceral thrills of Possessor with a class- and self-aware satire of the guilty rich
In a move that has apparently disappointed some and confused others, Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg decided to follow up his viscerally and visually stunning 2020 film Possessor [+see also:
film profile] with a movie anchored in a world more readily identifiable as our own: Infinity Pool [+see also:
film profile], which has just premiered in the Midnight section of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. More specifically, it is the choice to create yet another satire of the upper class that has deflated some of the general enthusiasm around the highly anticipated film, a year after Triangle of Sadness [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile] and The White Lotus already gave us our fair share of the same.
Writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are holidaying in a resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa (recognisably Croatia). The daughter of a wealthy businessman, she has been paying for his lifestyle for a long time, while he has struggled to find inspiration for the follow-up to his first novel, published years prior. It isn’t long before the passive man is sucked into the orbit of the beautiful and sexy Gabi Bauer (the electrifying Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), a hedonistic couple who invite James and Em to join them on a beach outside the bounds of the carefully manicured resort. Innocent this trip is not, and not just because it goes against the rules all guests agree to follow: already, James is succumbing to his attraction to the lascivious Gabi, even if he can fool himself into believing this is just a wholesome excursion with new friends. Skarsgård excels at playing men in such profound denial that they barely know themselves and their own desires, desperately clinging to prefabricated models of masculinity instead (see The Northman), and this might be his best performance to date. What attracts James to Gabi the most might be the fact that she does not follow any cues but her own: on the beach, she has no qualms about masturbating James when he least expects it. When, while driving back to the resort, James accidentally runs over and kills a local, she similarly does not hesitate or feel any guilt: they have to flee.
When the band is nevertheless arrested the next day, Cronenberg wrong-foots us for a while, as James is threatened with the death penalty — could the rich tourists actually have to face the consequences of their actions? Not really: for a hefty sum of money, they can pay to have a clone of themselves made that will be executed in their stead; the punishment, besides the fee, is to watch the murder.
It’s a horrible psychic retribution that the well-adjusted Em is repulsed by, but James quickly gets a taste for the experience and becomes acquainted with Gabi’s crew of fellow millionaire repeat offenders. Petty interests come into play when picking a target (one victim is someone Alban has professional beef with), but the film’s critique of privilege runs deeper than that: the main draw of these deadly games isn’t to abuse others, but to see yourself die afterwards.
In Possessor, an assassin who hijacks the bodies of others to carry out her hits eventually kills her family to extinguish feelings of anguish and guilt triggered by the rest of her existence as a compassionate wife and mother. Crucially, the only way she can exit a hijacked body and return to her own is suicide. Self-murders in Infinity Pool are likewise an ingenious way to disclose a character’s profound self-hatred and their fantasy of escaping their own selves, but this time, these emotions are inextricably tied into the feelings of guilt and unworthiness that can come with privilege. It does not take much to imagine that Cronenberg must be drawing from his own experience as a “nepo baby” here, but the film also demonstrates a certain humility in expanding the scope of those emotions into a societal, almost existential consideration. When James is set to finally return home, he finds that unlike his new friends, he cannot go back to a world where he is supposed to be comfortable knowing that many crimes are committed every day in the name of his comfort and privilege. It’s a sentiment we can sympathise with to some extent; but the film is also aware of the bitter and sad irony in seeing this man once again overwhelmed and paralysed by fear, convinced of his own helplessness, unable to imagine another way forward.
Infinity Pool was produced by Hero Squared (Hungary), 4 Film (Croatia), Celluloid Dreams (France), Film Forge (Canada) and Elevation Pictures (Canada). International sales are handled by Celluloid Dreams.
Photogallery 21/02/2023: Berlinale 2023 - Infinity Pool
16 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.