Depth Psychology

I went to see Infinity Pool at the Ritzy in Brixton. I think there were about 20 people at the 8.30 pm screening.

The film is the latest by Brandon Cronenberg, who wrote and directed Possessor. He is of course also the son of David Cronenberg, who did many works including 2 different films called Crimes Of The Future. Like those previous films, this new one includes a lot of body-horror and graphic practical special effects to show the results of close physical violence; like Possessor there is also a sequence in the first half depicting extreme disorientation and hallucinogenic drug experience using techniques rather similar to the crudely efficient way they would be realised in films from the late 60s/early 70s. That disorientation and loss of bearings is a theme should be clear from the start, as the camera rotates and we see the world this is centred in revolving and inverting on its axis.

Kier Starmer lookalike James Foster is on holiday with his wife Em on the island of La Tolqa. This seems to be based on locations such as Bali, as it has Los Angeles as a flight destination and the local alphabet looks a bit like something from south-east Asia. However the local government institutions and the grim-faced armed guards who patrol them are a bit central/eastern European; the music group entertaining the hotel guests seem vaguely Latin American. So this is a composite image of the world enjoyed by bored and wealthy western tourists who can barely remember which country they’re in this year, and the version they are hosted in features “multicultural” amenities anyway. Since the westerners are kept in a secure quasi-diplomatic compound and are strongly advised never to leave, this is also alluding to the earlier world of Tangiers and its International Zone, the location for many transgressive works such as Paul Bowles’s novels Let It Come Down and The Sheltering Sky, also celebrated in Cronenberg pere‘s adaptation of Naked Lunch.

Foster is already a kept man: a commercially unsuccessful author married to the daughter of his publisher, who gleefully admits to having “daddy issues” with her “monster” father who is presumably still happy to keep pumping up the trust fund that enables them to play in this league. They soon meet another couple: Gabi and Alban. He’s an old architect who now works in “consultancy” whilst she’s a young actress who specialises in adverts where she has to perform helplessness and an inability to survive without whatever product is being offered; the restaurant scene in which she demonstrates this is jolly and amusing even though it does feel very heavily that topics are being introduced. Of course meeting a strange and over-friendly new couple should set off an alarm for anyone who read Ian McEwan’s The Comfort Of Strangers (which also features a pair of innocents connected to the publishing world): it’s all going to end in horrible nasty sex with no fun. And of course it does but then maybe everyone sensed it would and felt unable to escape the death march to the end. As well as the violence, this film is as sexually explicit as is possible in mainstream cinema, and there is a bit where Gabi gives James a quick handjob, which is filmed so that it seems to show everything very quickly.

A drunken accident leads to a local farmer getting run over and killed, and the culprits are found by the police awfully quickly. The interiors of the rather spacious police cells are filmed such that the faces of James and his interrogator swirl and blur and distort against bright blank windows behind them as the focus shifts between them; throughout this film we get regular close-ups of the craggy, pitted human faces and their moist spots, as well as the strings of bloody saliva and vomit during excess indulgence and fighting. The Detective puts a special proposition: under the local law, respected by diplomatic treaty, the sons of the dead man have to perform a revenge killing on his killer. However it is possible for the verdict to be enacted on a cloned body in place of the authentic criminal – synthesised in a vat, and stated to have the full memories and emotional response of its parent.

So themes of doubling and variation come in, raising the prospect that at some point we might lose the real original James to a replicant, and the subject himself may not know how the narrative developed. There is also the concept of the scapegoat, and the possibility of a redemptive sacrifice, but no allusions to the christian idea of the Crucifixion and Resurrection as offering a new hope in this hellish, fallen world. This world certainly seems to be charged with totemic images with psychic power, and James retains the urns of cremains of his doppelgangers like they are sacred relics. The local culture includes the use of weird masks by minstrel players, which at first look like simulations of plague and leprosy victims, but on closer examination we can see one of them seems to be a double-face, and another has coins pouring from its mouth, so perhaps they are depictions of the 7 Deadly Sins, or a similar iteration of bad personality traits.

One other story of technology and free will that seems to be alluded to here is A Clockwork Orange. The scene in which our gang put on the masks and ride out in their sports car to carry out a raid is very similar to the fateful trip by Alex and the droogs, especially when they drag a naked woman out as they start attacking all the residents of a country villa they break in to. The correspondence is picked up again when James is later on the run from the gang after he falls out with them, and wanders across a farm house. The moment it appears we can predict that it’s going to contain the family of the farmer he killed earlier, just as Alex re-encounters the victim of his earlier rampage, and so we soon see the farmer’s son appear again. He appears but then we have another sequence of faces-beneath-faces and perhaps James found it all so predictable as well and is simply envisaging his expectations. The fact that a replicant gets its head smashed open by fists alone rather implies they’re not really made of the same stuff as humans and wouldn’t pass muster outside of their one formal engagement. The crew of jaded sybarites James has fallen in with seem to put quite a lot of effort into what must be quite time-consuming traps and hunts and games, far beyond usual expectations, set since at least 1970 and TV fare such as the Paul Temple episode Games People Play. We briefly see on James’s air ticket that this is happening in 2019, though it must be an alt-history.

I felt this was a disappointment, not as suggestive or as coherent as Possessor, while the themes and scenario were cliched. I’ve never been able to care much about the philosophical problems of “personal identity” because I’ve never really cared who I am. The problem is always with what other people take you to be.

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