Canadian director and writer Brandon Cronenberg’s third film, Infinity Pool, is a critically well-received, bewildering film that lends itself to widespread interpretation. Many reviewers discuss its timely, global topics such as criticism of class systems and wealth inequality, the negative consequences of tourism, and the risks of self-indulgence. On a smaller, personal scale, Infinity Pool is a metaphor for the never-ending quest for perfection that artists face.  

The protagonist of Infinity Pool is stultified author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), struggling with writing his second novel and doubting if he has any talent. He and his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), came to the luxurious resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa so he can find some inspiration. There, he meets a hedonistic group of American tourists who involve him in their violent and psychedelic experiences. They exploit a clever loophole in Li Tolqa’s strict legal system that allows them to break any laws they wish without fear of consequences while on the island.

Infinity Pool uses the technique of imperfect copies to depict the world it presents to the audience. Since the Li Tolqains prohibit tourists from leaving the resort, they provide many fake multicultural activities for their entertainment. The guests know they are expected to buy into these clumsy illusions. James and Em have dinner with Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) at a “Chinese” restaurant, and later they see a Bollywood dance exhibition, both staffed by Li Tolquans.

Within Li Tolqan society, personal duplicates serve as get-out-of-jail-free devices to avoid punishment for breaking the law. The unfortunate resort guests that fall afoul of the many capital crimes on the island can commission a duplicate to be executed in their place.  After their night out, the two couples make an illegal trip outside the resort, accidentally killing a local. When James is arrested and sentenced to death, he purchases a duplicate and watches its execution.  Afterward, Gabi introduces him to other tourists who have gone through the same experience.  They urge James to join them in more violent forms of debauchery, escalating to kidnap and murder, then sending their duplicates to be executed. 

There are many crucial but unexplained aspects of Infinity Pool. For example, the technology that creates exact duplicates, down to the memories and personality of the subject, is never explained. Neither is there any explanation why Li Tolqa is the only nation with such capabilities, or what kind of justice system would allow the wealthy to escape punishment for the worst crimes. One explaination is that James is a character in a rough draft of the novel he is struggling to write and has not figured out how to explain them. 

As a novel, James’ story is an anti-bildungsroman, the opposite of a coming-of-age story. Instead of maturing, James regresses to an infantile state. As James watches his duplicates die, he takes him a step backward as his personality devolves. 

Each of the duplicates corresponds to the elements of Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality, the superego, ego, and id. First, James betrayed the superego, the aspect responsible for higher moral functioning and reasoning, when he broke the rules, snuck out of the compound, and killed a man. Freed from the constraints of his conscience, he gets involved in a break-in that becomes a bloody shootout and again is sentenced to death. The death of the second duplicate resulted in the loss of his ego, the part of his personality that mediates between the desires of the id and the morality of the super-ego.

With only the id, the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives, left, his behavior becomes unrestrained and unpredictable. He is animalistic, practically non-verbal, aggressive, and impulsive. He takes part in a wildly psychedelic orgy and savagely beats a kidnapped victim, his third duplicate disguised by a bag over its head. He tries to flee the resort but is prevented by Gabi and her friends. They force him to fight the last duplicate, which, like him, is pure id. His regression is complete when, after killing this last duplicate, he suckles Gabi’s bloody nipple while she cradles him in her arms like a baby.

The story of Infinity Pool ends with James, the protagonist, unable to leave Li Tolqa and sitting in the pouring rain at the edge of the infinity pool, a shell of a man devoid of identity and free will. It is possible that his abject, defeated state reflects James the author’s own condition. He has poured his heart and soul into this work, which Brandon Cronenberg has now captured in this film.

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