Infinity Pool and the Infinite Sadness

Eliott Edge
4 min readFeb 18, 2023

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Brandon Cronenberg is back with his third picture Infinity Pool, and if it tells us anything it’s that just because a film is loaded with extreme violence, orgiastic sex, hallucinogenic drugs, human degradation, deformity and mayhem it doesn’t magically transform what’s presented on screen into something worth watching.

The film stars Alexander Skarsgård as James Foster, a struggling novelist visiting an exclusive resort, in effort to find some kind of inspiration to overcome his writer’s block. He’s joined by his exasperated wife Em, played by Cleopatra Coleman. Things take a turn for the weird when they come upon another couple, Gabi and Alban Bauer, played by Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert. Goth plays an actress who loves James’s first novel, but things are, of course, not at all as they seem. Infinity Pool’s performances are very good, but it’s not nearly enough to hold up the story, which is meandering, fat, unrefined, and worst of all dull.

Just over halfway through the film, I checked to see how much was left of it, looking forward to its ultimately unsatisfying climax — which is exactly what I got.

The only thing of note that’s interesting in the film is when you compare it to Brandon Cronenberg’s previous film Possessor. In that light, we see clearly the themes that BC is attracted to: doubles or imposters, which might have something to do with being the son of the iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg.

(I wouldn’t wanna be the son of a world renowned artist for the same reason why I wouldn’t want to be Jakob Dylan.)

That’s what this movie is really about. “Daddy issues,” writer’s block, emasculation, imposters, and a father’s death are all brought up in the film; but they are merely brought up. They aren’t meaningfully explored. Nothing really compelling happens. As a line from the film goes, Infinity Pool, “has nothing to say and lacks the words to say it.”

The only thing of note in this film that is worth considering is exactly this: a new filmmaker in the shadow of his father’s work, and it’s morbidly interesting if you read it like that.

The major problem of BC’s films lies in his craft as a writer. The camerawork and direction are fine to great in his films; but he has yet to get me to care about his characters, nor the stakes involved in his stories. In the case of Infinity Pool there seems to be no stakes at all.

The story is bloated; it’s about witnessing your own execution, male emasculation, and the leisure class behaving badly — the leisure class angle we’ve also seen done better in Triangle of Sadness. If it focused on one of these things, it may have been good. But that would require BC to write richer, more compelling characters, which he simply doesn’t know how to do yet.

If you are going to make a film about emasculation, you are covering ground that other films have already done really well. Back to the Future, About Schmidt, The Apartment, Cape Fear, and Fight Club all wrestle with it. It’s a trope, and it’s kind of boring if you don’t sincerely work on it as a major theme. In Infinity Pool the supposedly emasculated James (we don’t see much of this claim that he is, nor does he portray the character as such) will do anything and everything to prove to his new lust object (Goth) that he truly is a man. (See The Shape of Things for a truly pointed example of this kind of “I’ll do anything” behavior.) The tedium here is that anyone secure in themselves knows that’s no way to prove your salt, male or otherwise. It’s weak sauce that we’ve tasted before, particularly in horror films, and worse, it’s lazy, easy writing.

The film suffers from the same thing movies like Neon Demon suffer from, and that’s style over substance. What we are left with are movies that are at their best conceptually interesting, and at their worst vacuous.

That’s the word I would use to describe Infinity Pool: vacuous. It’s like seeing glittery air on a screen, but with nothing to shape it, or make it meaningful. The addition of graphic violence, two sequences with prolonged strobe lighting/editing, glossy lighting, and beautiful nude bodies doesn’t bring anything extra to the table. It’s more like covering up an unprepared meal with getting your guests drink on several conflicting wines instead. It feels like cotton filler, rather than beams that hold up or advance a compelling story.

I reminded of the character Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited here:

But when dear Sebastian speaks it is like a little sphere of soapsuds drifting off the end of an old clay pipe, anywhere, full of rainbow light for a second and then — phut! — vanished, with nothing left at all, nothing.”

Infinity Pool is a very bad movie; but, that being said, I can easily see myself within the next 12–36 hours changing my mind and admitting that it’s actually a terrible movie.

It is normal to follow in your parents’ or a mentor’s footsteps, but eventually, you have to brach off and discover your own voice.

Eventually, Brandon Cronenberg will likely make a great movie. He casts well, directs well, and he isn’t afraid of the bizarre. However, until he lands it as a writer, or finds a great screenplay, he will continue to make pretty-looking, vacuous, gory yawns.

D

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Eliott Edge

Author of '3 Essays on Virtual Reality', global speaker, artist, humorist, futurist, netizen, critic & psychonaut Patreon.com/OddEdges EliottEdge.com IEET.org