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What is Infinity Pool about?
Infinity Pool is a film about self-confrontation. James Foster has become disappointed and frustrated with himself, stagnant. But watching the execution of his double summons up something primal, causing him to pursue a deeper confrontation with his own mortality and desire to live. A desire that’s egged on by Gabi and her crew. It’s a modern twist on the theme of the doppelganger, the other that is you, and what is gained or lost through such an encounter. This is why Infinity Pool has the tagline “Find out what kind of creature you are.”
Movie Guide table of contents
- James Foster – Alexander Skarsgård
- Em Foster – Cleopatra Coleman
- Gabi Bauer – Mia Goth
- Alban Bauer – Jalil Lespert
- Jennifer – Amanda Brugel
- Bex – Caroline Boulton
- Charles – Jeffrey Ricketts
- Dr. Bob Modan – John Ralston
- Detective Thresh – Thomas Kretschmann
- Written by – Brandon Cronenberg
- Directed by – Brandon Cronenberg
The ending of Infinity Pool explained
The ending of Infinity Pool begins with James Foster’s attempt to escape Gabi’s hedonistic clan and return home to America and his wife, Em. But Gabi and crew intercept the bus, force James off of it, then torment him until he runs into the woods. Injured, he arrives at a farm house where he has an intense dream. The dream begins with the child (of the farmer James hit with a car) strangling James, except the kid’s face is a mask and beneath the mask is Em, James’s wife. She laughs and strangles and men in masks dance around. Eventually, Em tears James in half, his body split down the middle.
Upon waking, James heads outside. Gabi and the rest of her group are there, waiting for James. Gabi gives a speech about James’s need to fight a literal clone of himself. That through this he’ll find out what kind of creature he is and free himself of his past. She calls it a sacrifice. James refuses but Gabi releases “the dog” and a fight ensues. James versus James. One snarling, the other crying out in fear. One clothed, the other naked. The “dog” ends up on top of James, strangling him just like Em was in the dream. But James fights free, rolls on top, and bashes his doppelganger into oblivion. Gabi runs up, kneels down, cradles James, who cries in her arms, then nurses James from her bosom.
The next scene is James back at the hotel, put together, on the phone with his wife. It seems they’ve made up. In his luggage, he has three of the jars of the ashes of his clones. He leaves for the airport with Gabi and everyone. They’re all back to acting totally normal. None of the hedonism or craziness. At the airport, James says goodbye to Gabi and Alban. He then looks at everyone else in the airport. Conversation bubbles. Kids laugh. There are a lot of people. A sudden cut shows an empty airport. Suddenly quiet. James by himself. Another cut brings us back to the resort. It’s shut down for the rainy season. We see the infinity pool. Then James sat in a chair, on the beach, in the rain.
Infinity Pool is about the process of breaking out of stagnation. Other movies might take a very grounded, realistic approach to someone dealing with their guilt, shame, fear, and issues. Brandon Cronenberg opts for the defamiliarized and surreal. But it amounts to the same thing: a reckoning with the self. In the movie Flight, for example, Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic pilot, named Whip, whose world comes crashing down due to drinking. At the end, Whip has to make a choice: alcohol or everything else life has to offer. It’s not easy, but he chooses life.
James Foster has to make a similar choice. He’s been in a very negative place. His entire self-worth has been tied to the idea of being a writer. Except he’s uninspired and his one novel was probably only published because his wife is the daughter of the head of a major publishing house. Everything James has he owes to his wife. This has resulted in a lot of internalized negativity. Toward her, toward himself, toward the world. All of Infinity Pool builds up this idea of James letting go of who he has been, discovering Ego Death, and finding a way towards rebirth.
In Flight, this plays out with Whip going to a hearing about a plane crash. A crash that would have been a tragedy if not for his heroic actions that allowed the plane to land with minimal loss of life. Except the investigation found empty vodka bottles even though passengers never received service. A committee needs to determine who was drinking on the job: Whip or a flight attendant who didn’t survive. Whip, earlier in the movie, was willing to put the blame on the flight attendant in order to save himself. At the end, having gone through his transformation, he comes clean. He not only admits to drinking before the flight but to being intoxicated that very moment at the hearing. He goes to jail. But a flash forward shows us that he’s in a much better place. He’s sober, healthy, and improving his relationships with loved ones he had driven away.
Infinity Pool executes its own version of that exact scene but in a defamiliarized way. The feral version of James Foster represents who he has been. Everything he detests about himself. All the ugliness that’s lived inside of him. This is the part of him he’s been internally battling for who knows how long. Who will win? The worst version of James or a better one? It’s the same fork in the road that Whip faces when he has to decide whether to take the easy path and blame the flight attendant or be honest and start on a path of truth and healing. It’s just Whip’s scene is reality-based and James’s is aggrandized. Both characters end up reborn. Flight allows us to feel that through Whip’s change in demeanor and behavior. Infinity Pool can mythologize it through the visual of James performing the action of a newborn.
You would expect, though, that having won the confrontation that James would head back home, renewed and positive and ready to live his life in a more confident way. Except he doesn’t return home. He stays in Li Tolqa. Why?
One of the undercurrents of Infinity Pool is the dynamic between James and his wife. There’s an odd power dynamic. Em’s the one with money. She’s the one who finances James’s life. At one point, she says her father told her to never marry a writer. So she did just that. How she explains it frames their relationship as a bit hollow. And what we see at the very beginning of the movie is a disconnect between the two of them. Em denies James’s attempt at intimacy. Then abandons him at breakfast. Later in the film, she returns to America while James stays behind, having hid his passport and pretending like it was potentially stolen. This creates a long stretch where Em is out of the picture, so it’s easy to forget the importance of their relationship.
But there’s a reason why James’s last dream goes from the farm boy choking him to Em choking him. The farm boy was the one who performed the execution on James’s first clone (who was probably the original James). To connect the person who actually killed James to Em tells us that Em has, in a less physical way, been harming James. Cronenberg makes that quite clear through the visual of Em on top of James, choking him. It represents what their relationship has been.
It’s not a coincidence that in the fight with feral James that the two end up recreating the dream. Feral James is on top of James, choking him, just like Em was. When he fights free, reverses the position, then punches feral James to a pulp, that’s significant. It’s also not a coincidence that the very next scene is James on the phone with Em. If he goes back home, he’s going back home to her. To be her trophy husband. To be the man she married just because it upset her father. To be, in a lot of ways, nothing.
We see this “return to what you were” with Gabi and the others. On the bus, they all talk about the mundane things they’re returning to. Chores, People. Routines. In Li Tolqa, they were not those people. They’ve been wild, free, daring. They unshackled. But James is no longer that person. He destroyed that part of himself. He can’t return to Em. Because he can’t return to who he was. Which is why he, ultimately, retreats to the resort.
It’s a strange conclusion because in some ways it’s positive but in others it’s really negative. It’s positive because James has decided to be true to himself rather than return to a situation that’s withering his soul on the vine. It’s negative because he’s just sitting in a closed resort, in the rain. In Flight, we know Whip’s on a better path. But Infinity Pool doesn’t give us that same closure. It’s not like we see James sit down at a computer he had continuously avoided and begin to write something. It’s not like there was a better romantic partner he can now pursue. It’s not like he had some great job offer on Li Tolqa he’ll accept. So what is next?
Some people will be fine with how inconclusive James’s story is. The fact that he’s gone through the rebirth will be enough. They don’t need to know what happens next. To others, it will come off as a bit indecisive and unconvincing. Not because it fails to neatly and explicitly tie things up. But more so because it can feel like the movie didn’t know what to do next so cobbled together an ambiguous final few minutes with which to trail off.
The themes and meaning of Infinity Pool
Ego death and Rebirth
At the beginning of Infinity Pool, James Foster is in a funk. He’s wealthy but only because he married rich. His identity as an author is a fake one because his one book had little impact and he hasn’t been able to write anything else. He’s at an overall point of emptiness and stagnation.
This is a familiar story. Gravity, Eat Pray Love, Fight Club, Groundhog Day, Stalker, Lost in Translation, Chef, American Beauty are all movies that find unique ways to explore the idea of stagnation and the search for a way through and past it. Sometimes that story is grounded, realistic. Other times, it’s defamiliarized. Infinity Pool takes that latter approach.
James is so fascinated by the cloning process because it’s a kind of Ego death. This version of him that’s associated with wrongdoing is “extracted”, presented, and executed. You can imagine him seeing that other him as everything that he’s been that he’s disliked. His weaknesses, his failures, his inhibitions. That’s why in the aftermath of the first execution he begins to distance from Em and attach him to Gabi and Alban. Em represents everything he had been. The sum of all his defeats. While Gabi and Alban represent progress and rebirth, the lack of inhibition.
That’s why the next part of Infinity Pool is more bohemian and libertine. James is much more primal. Lo and behold, Gabi then has him confront an actual primal version of himself. A new clone that’s completely feral. This confrontation between “the man” and “the beast” is made quite literal but it’s something that a grounded movie would demonstrate through, say, a character having to deal with addiction issues or face a fear of public speaking or something that demonstrates overcoming an internal fear/weakness/conflict. Movies that defamiliarize, that lean into the surreal, can get away with making that internal confrontation much more explicit.
After James defeats James, Gabi breastfeeds him. A grounded movie might just have dialogue where the character says, “I feel reborn.” Infinity Pool goes the much more symbolic route of showing James infantilized. By breastfeeding, he’s acting as if he were a newborn. Fresh from the womb. This completes the journey of rebirth that James began with the first cloning and execution. It wasn’t enough to simply witness the thing. He had to be the one to do it. Only then is he made new.
Everything that happens in the story is part of this process of driving James to a point of this climactic confrontation and the reincarnation that follows.
Why is the movie called Infinity Pool?
There’s a duality to the use of “infinity pool” in the title. On the one hand, James and Em Foster are in a high-end resort in the tropical Li Tolqa. It’s the kind of fancy place you would expect to have an infinity pool, that visual illusion of the pool connecting with the ocean or sky. On the other hand, you have the Li Tolqa government’s cloning procedure. It involves standing in a tiny room while the room fills with a crimson gunk that eventually submerges you. It’s in that small space that James has his first out of body, transcendent experience, a byproduct of the conscious portion of the cloning process.
There’s some poetic connection between these two things. The standard infinity pool represents this idea of the pool extending beyond its normal confines and joining with the immensity of this other body. Then James exceeds the bounds of his own body and having this duplicate that is and isn’t him and the whole existential awakening that comes with such an experience.
Dreamy interpretations aside, the simplest answer is that the pool of gunk can make innumerable clones of someone. Something we see as James, Gabi, Alban and the other reborns end up in a cycle of being arrested, cloned, and executed, just for the fun of it. That cloning process is kind of quite literally an “infinity” pool.
Important motifs in Infinity Pool
The masks of the Li Tolqa
Near the opening of Infinity Pool, James and Em watch as the resort staff do a quick introduction to one of the country’s special occasions. We’re told that the time before the rainy season is a holiday period for Li Tolqa. They call it umbrama, which means “the summoning”, and it involves song, dance, feasting, and, of course, masks. The aki mask.
The masks are a deformation of the regular human face. As fascinating as they are off-putting. When we first see them, they’re without much meaning. Just decorative items worn by the resort staff and for sale in the store. Later, after James has had his first cloning and he’s hanging out with the other clones, they break into the store and steal some masks. We then have this weird aside where each member of the group poses in their mask, almost like a mug shot or license photo. That moment puts special emphasis on the mask and this idea of becoming someone else. Which suddenly dovetails with James’s character arc of self-confrontation.
While in these masks, the group commits a pretty significant crime. They’re at their most hedonistic and violent. This establishes a dichotomy between James “with the mask on” and James “with the mask off”. Which can be redefined as the version of James who gives in to his baser instincts and the version of James who is more civilized and conscience. This lines up with how James’s entire character arc is about self-confrontation and the idea of letting go of who you have been in order to become someone new. In other words: duality.
After James goes through his first duplication and execution, the Li Tolqa government gives him an urn with the ashes of his other. Symbolically, this marks the end of one version of James. By the end of the film, he has three such urns, packed in his suitcase, ready to take home with him. One is the stagnant James who came to the island. Another is the hedonist who fell in with Gabi and her crew. And the third is the dog, the feral version that Gabi has James fight to the death. Each urn marks a different aspect of his psyche, a different part of his being, that has been removed, judged, and destroyed. And leaves us with the question: who is James now?
The rainy season
Before the rainy season, the Li Tolqa people celebrate. It’s a last hurrah before the storms come and shut everyone in and close everything down. At the end of Infinity Pool, the season is upon us. The tempest roars. James could have, like the others, gone home. Back to his normal day to day life. Instead, he opts to stay at the closed resort, alone, sitting out in the squall.
The initial reading of this seems representative of depression or retreating or giving up. But you could make the case that a rainy season is just that: a season. Like winter, it’s a low point. A time that’s inhospitable and limiting. There’s another side to the coin though. Limitation and isolation allow for rest and reflection. Recuperation. Regrouping. So that when the snow melts. Or when the clouds clear. You’re able to reconnect with the world, refreshed and renewed. It’s possible that Infinity Pool’s use of the rainy season implies something similar. That James has opted to end his marriage and go through a season of rain, so to speak, before recovering and beginning a new chapter of his life.
Questions & answers about Infinity Pool
Was the real James executed or the clone?
This is what we see of the process the first time.
- James is arrested.
- Brought to a holding room.
- They have him change into a hospital gown.
- He’s taken from the holding room to a staging room.
- They remove his gown.
- He’s put into the cloning room and the cloning room fills with liquid.
- We see a James wake up in a hospital room.
- Back in his original clothes, James is brought downstairs to a high tech lab where another James is. We’re told this is the clone.
- The clone is in a red cocoon. It wakes up with a gasp.
- We cut to the execution arena.
- A James in a gown is tied to a stake.
- A James in his original clothes watches from the stands.
This is what we see of the process the second time:
- James, Gabi, and the other tourists in their group spend an evening causing absolutely mayhem.
- A cut shows them all in the holding room at the police station. They’re all wearing gowns.
- The main detective comes in, lectures them, saying he wants to make a statement, then has guards escort James and crew to the arena.
- Along the way, Alban and others say they’re ready to pay to have a clone executed instead. It seems they were never given that option.
- The cops lock each of the tourists to a block then execute them.
- In the stands are James, Gabi, and the rest of the tourists. They applaud and cheer. They’re all wearing the clothes we saw them wearing from the night before.
The first process makes it seem like the original James is the one that lives and the clone is the one that faces punishment. But there are implications between the first and second execution that maybe it’s the clones that survive. Which is what makes the second execution so interesting. Because the editing is such that we’re led to believe that the group went directly from the hotel to the holding cell and didn’t yet have the option of the cloning process. That it’s the “real” James that’s marched to the arena and executed. All of this is done to have that twist of James and everyone cheering from the stands.
That begs the question, though: what happened between the hotel and the cut to the holding cell? Did James and the others already agree to the cloning process, go through it, and for some reason the clones were brought to the holding cell before execution? Why then does the detective make the speech? Why does Alban plead that he’s ready to pay? If they were the clones, wouldn’t they be aware of waking up in the clone lab? Wouldn’t they just be brought from the lab to the arena?
If they’re not the clones, then it would seem they never did a second cloning procedure. In which case, the Li Tolqa police would have made new clones based on the original process, given the clothes to the clones, let the clones watch from the stands, then executed the non-clones.
It is possible that in the first process, the James we think is the clone, the one encased in red, is the James from the cloning chamber. The process did involve filling the small room with a blood-like liquid. If that liquid dried, it would probably look a lot like the cocoon we see “clone” James in. So there’s an argument to be made that the first execution was the original James, not the clone. In that case, it would give more weight to the second execution being the “originals” and not the new clones.
Honestly, whether it’s the real James or the clone, it probably doesn’t change the larger thematic purpose of the film. We’re dealing with the idea of rebirth. Whether it’s symbolic or literal, it’s all the same to the James that remains, since we’re told the memories and personality is 100% a match. So while it’s fun to try and solve this mystery, the reward is more the “friends we made along the way” rather than some big revelation that transforms everything you know about Infinity Pool.
Why does James stay behind at the resort? Why doesn’t he go home?
The short answer is that he doesn’t want to return to the life he had been living, specifically his marriage with Em. For the long answer, see the ending explanation above.
Why does Gabi nurse James?
The main theme of Infinity Pool is rebirth. And the idea of nursing is tied to the idea of being a newborn. So to have James battle a version of himself to the death then nurse, it cements the idea of him ending an old chapter in his life and beginning anew.
Why did James hide his passport?
Because he wanted to stay behind and spend more time with Gabi. There were already issues in his marriage with Em. So his choice to pursue Gabi has less to do with Gabi and more to do with making a choice to separate from Em. A decision he doubles down on at the very end of the movie.
Is Li Tolqa a real place?
Is Infinity Pool based on a true story?
No. But Brandon Cronenberg did say he had some bad vacation experiences that informed aspects of the story.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Infinity Pool? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!