Over the course of his three feature films, Brandon Cronenberg, son of body horror maestro David Cronenberg, has exhibited a repeated fascination with the human potential for self-destruction when faced with overwhelming forces that threaten to destroy one’s morality. This is one of the central motifs in his latest film, Infinity Pool (2023), in which an idyllic resort vacation evolves into one man’s nightmarish descent into unwavering madness at the hands of privilege.
The film not only begs the question of how quickly morality can be tampered with but the question of whether or not our morality is ever really there to begin with, as well. And it meditates on these questions through a series of increasingly violent and chaotic situations which are considered normal to some and life-altering to others. But before we can begin to make sense of the film’s strange ending, let’s take a closer look at our main players and the events that lead to such a tumultuous conclusion.
Spoilers ahead for Infinity Pool (2023)!
Infinity Pool (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
How Do the Fosters Meet the Bauers?
The film opens as James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em Foster (Cleopatra Coleman) awaken while staying at an all-inclusive resort on the island country of Li Tolqa, which is in the midst of celebrating a yearly festival. James is a struggling novelist who has not published a book in over six years, though he still lives a privileged lifestyle due to the wealth of Em’s family and their publishing empire. They intend to spend their vacation in Li Tolqa so that James may find some inspiration for his next work.
While exploring the resort, James encounters commercial actress Gabi Bauer (Mia Goth), who is also on vacation with her architect husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert). He is flattered to learn that Gabi and Alban were both big fans of his previous book, though he is surprised given that it was a critical and financial dud. After the two couples dine together that evening at a local restaurant, the Bauers invite the Fosters to join them on an excursion the next day. Though their resort is heavily guarded and guests are instructed to stay within the compound at all times, the Bauers are able to sneak out due to their connection with one of the guards, Mr. Thresh.
Why is James Arrested?
The Fosters and Bauers explore the Li Tolqan countryside in Thresh’s car before stopping at a small beach, where they enjoy the sun and have a barbecue. It is here that James and Em divulge a bit of their interpersonal tension, as it is revealed that Em’s family is resentful of their marriage and James’ lack of income. Later on, when James excuses himself to urinate in the woods, he is met by Gabi, who sneaks up behind him and gives him a handjob. James remains shaken by the encounter for the remainder of the day.
That evening, as the two couples prepare to leave the beach, James offers to drive, as the others are all tired and drunk. While driving through the countryside, the car’s headlights begin to fail, causing James to collide with a local man, killing him instantly. Left in shock by the incident, Em and James both suggest calling the police. But Gabi and Alban inform them of the Li Tolqan government’s strict jurisdiction, convincing them to flee the scene and return to the hotel, where James vomits due to his shock.
What is James’ Punishment For the Accident?
The next morning, James is greeted by the Li Tolqan police at his suite, who arrest him for causing the previous night’s events. At the local jail, he meets Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann), the resort guard’s brother. The detective informs James that the policy of the Li Tolqan government is that James can either be executed for his crime by the youngest son of the man he killed or, if he can afford it, the government will create a genetically identical double of James to be executed in his place. Due to their good financial standing, Em agrees to pay the fee for James’ double.
The only caveat to paying the fee for the double is that James and Em will both be forced to watch the execution take place. They are brought into a small, dimly lit room and sit next to the family of the killed man. James’ double, who also possesses all of James’ memories, is tied to a post in the center of the room. The deceased man’s youngest is led into the room by a guard, who hands him a large knife. Despite the double’s protests and pleas for help, the boy stabs him repeatedly. Though Em is visibly disturbed by the ordeal and shields her eyes, James is strangely enraptured and never looks away.
Who are the “Zombies”?
After receiving the double’s ashes, James and Em are led back to the resort, where a horrified Em immediately plans to leave Li Tolqa. James follows suit but stops packing once he realizes he cannot find his passport. He then encourages her to leave without him before extending his stay by a week to have time to get a new passport. While making the arrangements with the hotel staff, James encounters Gabi and Alban once more, who invites him to a small gathering with them and their affluent friends.
The Bauers reveal to James that their vacation group has all been through the same doubling process as him many times before. They return to Li Tolqa once a year to commit serious crimes and get away with it because their wealth allows them to have themselves doubled. One of the Bauers’ friends refers to their group as “zombies.” With their remaining time, they terrorize the resort with their philandering and hedonistic behavior, knowing full well that they will never be held accountable for their actions. Over the next several days, they indoctrinate James into their group and encourage him to act as recklessly as he wants, which includes abusing the resort staff, engaging in orgies with the group, and staging a home invasion involving a local politician. They are all arrested once more and watch their doubles die, much to their amusement.
How Does James Snap Out of It?
James becomes increasingly enamored with this new lifestyle, and his attachment is only exacerbated once Em officially leaves the country to return to America. One night, the Bauers and the other “zombies” plan to kidnap Detective Thresh from the jail and beat him senselessly. Their plan succeeds, and Thresh is brought back to the Bauers’ suite tied up with a bag over his head. They instruct James to beat, which he gladly does, though he is shocked to discover that the man is not Thresh as he was led to believe. But he is actually another double of himself. Flustered by the ordeal and unwilling to kill the double as the others request, James flees the room in panic and returns to his own suite.
He retrieves his passport from under his bathroom sink, revealing that he hid it there to have an excuse to stay longer. Gabi knocks on his door and tries to reason with him before tempting him with sex, but James refuses to answer her. The next morning, James boards a shuttle bus to be taken to the airport. However, the bus is flagged down by the Bauers and the “zombies,” who hold the bus at gunpoint and threaten to kill everyone aboard unless James departs, which he reluctantly does.
Forced to walk back to the resort on foot as the group’s cars tail him, Gabi lies on the windshield of Alban’s car and berates James, calling him worthless as a man and a writer before revealing that neither she nor Alban has even read his book. Fed up with their lifestyle, James attempts to accost Gabi and is shot in the leg in the ensuing struggle.
Infinity Pool (2023) Movie Ending, Explained:
Why Does James Stay Behind?
After several hours of wandering through the woods with his bullet wound, James collapses near a farm and is rescued by the family of the man he killed. Due to his injuries, he experiences a hallucination of the man’s youngest son arriving to kill him once more. After waking from the dream in better health, he exits the family’s house to find the Bauers and their group awaiting him. There, the group forces him to fight a feral double of himself to the death to complete his entrance into their group. With no option other than survival, James beats the double to death by caving his head in.
A short time later, James, the Bauers, and their friends are preparing to leave Li Tolqa as the resort makes plans to close for the monsoon season. While the others behave in a calm and collected manner as if the events of the last week had never occurred, James is traumatized by what he has done. While the Bauers and several other tourists depart on their flights, James remains at the airport before returning to the resort, unable to leave as the impending monsoon approaches.
It is left for us to infer that James considers his unaccounted behavior irrevocable and cannot bear the pain of returning to a normal life knowing what he has done. But what is not so easily inferred is what it is that caused him to consider returning to society in the first place. It could easily be said that his hesitation in killing his double was not born from the return of his moral conscience but rather the complete absence of it due to his newfound power and vanity. As is shown on screen, he appears to enjoy the sense of invincibility that comes with being able to cheat death with money. Killing his double was merely one final step to prove that he was never any better than the Bauers and their friends.
What was merely an extended act of letting vices run wild for the others was a true descent into madness for James. This is not to say the Bauers are any better than James due to their self-awareness, but rather that money and power have the ability to corrupt anyone willing to let it go to their head, a notion made doubly sickening considering that James did not originally come from wealth.
Of course, it could be said that James has a certain amount of self-awareness himself if one considers the idea of him sitting in the pouring rain by the film’s final scene an act of “getting clean.” But the notion of him trying to leave what he’s done behind is only complicated by his decision not to return home but to the place where he lost part of himself in the first place.