Morality and Personal Identity in Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool

If you’ve read my articles before, you might not expect me to be a fan of Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool. I often gravitate towards films with deep moral messages, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who’d call this movie moral. It’s about a guy who goes on vacation and descends into utter debauchery after meeting a group of rich psychopaths, so on the surface, this doesn’t seem like my kind of film.

But you know what? I actually love Infinity Pool. In fact, until I saw Evil Dead Rise, it was my favorite movie of the year, and even though we’re not even halfway through 2023 yet, I’m confident it’ll end up on my top-10 list come December. Sure, it’s a bit outside my typical wheelhouse, but if you really dig into it, you’ll find that Infinity Pool is way more than just depravity for depravity’s sake. It uses its degenerate characters and storyline to send a surprisingly great message, so let’s take a deep dive into this fantastic film and see just what it has to say.

The Basic Plot

Gabi relaxing

Let’s start by going over the basic plot of Infinity Pool. The main character is a struggling novelist named James, and when the movie starts, he’s on vacation with his wife Em in the fictional country of Li Tolqa. Not long after we first meet this couple, James runs into a woman named Gabi who says she’s a fan of his work. They hit it off pretty quickly, and the next thing you know, James and Em are having dinner with Gabi and her husband Alban.

The next day, the two couples sneak out of their resort and hang out together in the Li Tolqan countryside. On the drive back, James accidentally hits one of the locals and kills him, and he’s arrested for murder soon afterwards. He’s found guilty and sentenced to death, but luckily for him, Li Tolqa has a unique way of dealing with foreign troublemakers. Tourists in his predicament can pay to be cloned and have the clones killed in their place, and James happily undergoes that bizarre process.

After he survives his own execution, Gabi tells him that she and Alban both went through that same experience some time ago, and she introduces him to a small group of rich vacationers who’ve been through it as well. And that’s when the horror in Infinity Pool really begins. These people know they can get away with anything, so they shed all their inhibitions and live it up in the most depraved and loathsome way possible. For example, they steal, they torment people at gunpoint, and they engage in drug-fueled orgies. Sure, they get in trouble with the authorities sometimes, but whenever they do, they just pay to have clones executed in their place. There are literally no consequences for anything they do, so they quickly turn James into the absolute worst version of himself.

Thankfully, he eventually realizes how terrible he’s become and tries to go back home, but Gabi and her friends catch up to him. They kidnap him and torment him a bit, and by the end of Infinity Pool, James is a broken shell of a man who can’t believe what he’s allowed himself to become.

Multiple Meanings

People in masks

On the surface, Infinity Pool may not seem like a very deep movie. It’s easy to see it as just debauchery for debauchery’s sake, but if you look a bit closer, you’ll see that the film actually contains a wealth of meaning. For example, as my podcast co-host Sean Parker pointed out in his review of Infinity Pool, you can see it as a movie about unchecked privilege. Criminals in Li Tolqa have to pay a high price to have clones executed in their place, so only the rich can afford to live this kind of consequence-free lifestyle.

Or you could see it as a story about male insecurity. James is a struggling novelist whose only book was poorly received, and the only reason he has a roof over his head is because his wife is rich. He’s the kind of guy who might feel the need to prove his worth as a man, so it’s not hard to see why he’d go down this rabbit hole of sex and violence.

On top of that, Infinity Pool also works as a story about international politics. Remember, only foreign tourists can have clones executed in their stead, so only foreigners can run amok in Li Tolqa with no consequences, just like rich countries often mistreat poorer nations and get away with it scot-free.

Those are all valid interpretations of the film, but when I first saw it, I took it in yet another way. For me, Infinity Pool is primarily about personal identity. The whole idea of creating clones and executing them in place of the real criminals lends itself very naturally to that theme, and if we pay attention, we’ll see that it’s way more than just a curious byproduct of the movie’s fantastical story.

Personal Identity 

James' clone

See, the cloning process in this film very clearly raises the question of personal identity. When James goes through it, it knocks him out, and he wakes up in a recovery room sometime later. So for all anybody knows, the government might’ve put the clone in the recovery room and executed the real James.

And in case we don’t realize that on our own, one of the characters in Infinity Pool explicitly brings it to our attention. When James first meets Gabi’s rich friends, one of them says to him:

Do you worry they got the wrong man? Do you think, I mean, looking back on it, that they killed the real James? That was my biggest fear after my own experience. Because you wake up in that little room, and for all you know, they could’ve just swapped you out. Hard to say what happened while you were asleep.

What’s more, there’s also a scene in the film that raises this very question in a pretty dramatic way. After James goes out with these people for the first time, they get caught and find themselves running for their lives. They make it to James’ place safely, but soon after they get there, the camera immediately cuts to the jail, and we see the entire group waiting to talk to a police officer. Apparently, they were arrested for their crimes, and it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re going to be sentenced to death.

We also think they’re going to get off easy once again, but things don’t go quite so smoothly. In fact, the police don’t even offer to execute clones in their place. They just drag the group out to the execution area and start killing them, and when we see it, we’re shocked. We wonder where the story can go from here if all our main characters are dead, but then Infinity Pool flips the script on us one more time.

The execution area

We see the real James, Gabi, and company sitting in the back watching this all take place, so we realize that the people being executed are in fact the clones. They were simply tricked for the real characters’ amusement, so this incident doesn’t have the narrative heft we initially thought it would. However, on a thematic level, it’s still really important.

The scene makes us acutely aware of the question of personal identity yet again, and for my money, it does so even more successfully than the brief conversation the characters had about it earlier. This time, we don’t just hear someone talk about it. We see for ourselves how difficult it can be to distinguish a person from their clone, so it hammers the point home in a way mere words never could.

And I think that’s significant. Personal identity was the primary theme of Brandon Cronenberg’s previous film, Possessor, so it’s clearly something the man is very interested in. I doubt he would put it in Infinity Pool without intending it to be a major theme once again, so it’s safe to say that this is at least one of the big ideas the movie tries to tackle.

James’ True Colors

That being said, it might not be immediately clear exactly what Infinity Pool wants to say about personal identity. The question of whether James is the real James or just the clone fades into the background pretty quickly, so at first, this might seem like a thematic dead end. But I don’t think it is. As the movie goes on, the focus shifts from personal identity in the strict, literal sense to a moral sense, so the issue of who really woke up in the recovery room ends up being a metaphor for the film’s primary concern: whether the real James is the seemingly nice person we meet at the beginning of the story or the uncaring jerk he becomes later on.

See, people show who they really are when they know they won’t face any consequences for their actions, and James is no different. When the film begins, he seems like a decent enough guy, but once he realizes he can literally get away with murder, he lets his true colors show. He reveals himself to be an utterly contemptible human being, so the nice guy he appeared to be before meeting Gabi was just a facade.

James' clone looking feral

And if there’s any doubt about that, Infinity Pool confirms it for us in one of its final scenes. After James comes to his senses and realizes how terrible he’s become, Gabi and her friends bring him a clone of himself and tell him to kill it, and Gabi utters a line that’s basically our smoking gun. She says, “It’s time for you to shed that disgusting larval mind of yours and find out what kind of a creature you really are.”

With that, the movie shows its hand and lets us know that it really is about what kind of person James is. Granted, Gabi uses the word “creature” instead of “person,” but the idea is clearly the same. She wants James to show that beneath his facade of goodness and normality, he’s actually a horrible person just like her and her friends, and despite some initial reluctance, he eventually gives in and reveals that he really is just like them.

Who We Are Matters

After that, James is so disgusted with himself that he can’t even go home to his wife, and Infinity Pool ends with him returning to the resort and sitting by himself in the pouring rain. It’s a pretty depressing way to close out the story, but I think it’s the right choice.

It lets us know without a doubt that James is a total failure of a human being, so it keeps the film from being a detached, almost clinical study of his behavior. Instead, Infinity Pool sends a clear message that who we are matters, so we should try our best to be genuinely good people, no matter who’s watching us or what consequences we might (or might not) face.

One Comment

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  1. wow. what a weirdly optimistic ending of an article lol.

    this movie seems so interesting and hello…Mia goth….but I was afraid the trip scenes would be too much for me so im more so seeing what people are saying about it lol

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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