Brandon Cronenberg’s latest film, Infinity Pool, is a singular achievement that showcases his talent for crafting horror and hallucinatory stories. The movie follows a vacation gone wrong as violence and perversion unfold in unexpected ways.
With his movies, including Antiviral, Possessor and now Infinity Pool, Cronenberg explores themes related to technology, the human body, and their intersection. His films are known for their visceral and disturbing imagery as well as their commentary on the darker aspects of contemporary society, and all of these concepts are present in his latest work.
Ahead of the release of Infinity Pool, CGMagazine had the opportunity to sit down with Cronenberg and discuss the process and choices behind his latest film. From casting to the use of language and dreams, it is a candid look at his work and the process that goes into making it all a reality.
First of all, I loved the movie when I saw it, so congratulations on the release. The casting seemed perfect for the roles in the movie. Did you have people in mind when you started working on Infinity Pool or did it all fall into place as the production got underway?
Brandon Cronenberg: I never have anyone in mind when I’m writing because it’s so hard to know who you can cast. There are so many factors that go into that process, from the availability of actors to the interest of actors to who has the right passport, that is something that can come up, especially if it is a co-production.
So I think when the casting seems perfect, at least in the case of my films, it’s usually a compliment to the actors for being able to embody those roles so well and make it seem like no one else could be those characters. That’s my experience when I’m writing.
I don’t think about anybody, I just want to cast somebody who has that incredible energy. And there are certain brilliant actors that I fixate on because all the roles I see them in they’re so incredibly exciting, and I want them to bring that life to my characters. When I’m done, I also can’t see these characters as someone else. But again, it’s mostly because of their great acting.
Infinity Pool has numerous acts that really set the tone as you go along. How did you decide to include the twist that changes the direction of the rest of Infinity Pool?
Brandon Cronenberg: I wanted the movie to work as a kind of bait and switch. You know, until the end of the first act and just beyond.
It’s a movie that we’ve seen before, a story about someone killing someone in a car accident, and then they have to deal with the consequences. Someone in trouble in a foreign country. That’s something we’ve seen before.
So it was important to me to have that play out in a familiar way to a certain extent and then have it take a turn. That certainly happened in the editing process. A certain amount of play there.
In terms of how long the movie could go. Before we got to that point in the early cuts of the movie, it was probably too long. There’s kind of a balance. You don’t want people to find it so familiar that they get bored with it, but you have to lull them into a certain kind of rhythm in a certain kind of filmmaking in order for that twist to work.
As I watched the movie, I noticed that the use of language and writing really helped to set the tone of fear and dream-like feeling to the proceedings. How did you decide to make it a completely invented language?
Brandon Cronenberg: Sure. I mean, the language, both written and spoken, is an invented language, but it’s invented by a linguist that we brought in, so it’s kind of a coherent, invented language if that makes sense. And it was a balancing act because, on the one hand, the country doesn’t function in a normal way. It has a kind of dream logic to it. It’s not meant to be completely realistic.
In some ways, the movie, even though it’s a science fiction movie, is almost more in the spirit of magical realism because you have this kind of realistic setting. There’s an absurdist twist that sets everything in motion, but it doesn’t really work as predictive science fiction. It’s not like believable world-building in a future with cloning technology, for example. And it’s not that kind of movie.
It had to feel like a real place so that it would not go off the rails right away, so it was loosely based on a dream of an Eastern Bloc state, an invented Eastern Bloc state, which was fed by the actual locations because we shot in Budapest and in Croatia. So the real world history of those countries and the communism there, in terms of the architecture, in terms of the cars that we found there to use. I think that added a certain amount of realism to it.
The ending is open to interpretation. Do you, as the director, have a definitive answer for the movie, or do you like to keep it open?
Brandon Cronenberg: Both. I have an answer. I know what the ending means to me. All these questions, including who the real James is. You know, the kind of more plotting stuff and also the psychological elements. I have my own answers, but I don’t want to give them because they’re for me. Part of the interest in a movie like this, hopefully, is that there’s room for exploration on the part of the audience.
I like that kind of filmmaking. I like it when there are unanswered questions. I like being able to explore those things and think about them and maybe disagree with other people. That’s that. Something rich for me as an audience member. In my movies, the kind of experience that I like as a moviegoer. I don’t like to come in and demand that people see it a certain way or give my own interpretation right off the bat.
When you were making Infinity Pool, did you ever worry that you were going too far?
Brandon Cronenberg: I never really try to shock the audience just for the sake of shocking them. I know I’ve gotten a little bit of flak for that, but that’s not really my intention. I think it’s okay to do that.
There’s a long, interesting history of shock movies, and I don’t think it’s inherently bad, but I also think it has limited artistic value. For me, those scenes are very much about narrative and character psychology in Infinity Pool. Who these people are and the core of the story is the fact that you have this essentially banal kind of people in a banal kind of setting who, when they’re free from responsibility, from accountability, end up doing this kind of animalistic violence and carnality that was obviously there somewhere beneath the surface.
So, for the audience to feel that, for that contrast to be really pronounced, I think you have to know what they’re doing and have some sort of visceral sense. I think you have to go through it because it’s one thing to say on paper, “…and then they had an orgy,” but it’s another thing to see the morning after, when you’ve gone through that experience with them, or to see the aftermath of those scenes of violence and the incredibly mundane world that contrasts with the violence that they’ve participated in.
I think you have to feel it to really, really get it. It’s much less interesting to me to just have it on paper as a thing that you understand in a purely intellectual way.
There were a lot of social messages in the movie. Is that open to interpretation, or did you go into the movie saying these are the issues and concepts I want to shine a light on in this society, or did it just come out of the story you wanted to tell?
Brandon Cronenberg: A little bit of both. I mean, there were certainly themes that I wanted to explore before I wrote the script. There were things that came up or versions of that exploration that evolved as I was writing. So, I mean, it’s intentional. Again, I don’t want to unpack it and tell people what to think, but it’s intentionally political, and it’s intentionally satirical.
Personally, were you influenced by any of the surrealist directors?
Brandon Cronenberg: Yeah, I love those. I love those movies, for sure. And even though I wasn’t watching them specifically when we were making this, I did grow up with some of them, and I’m sure they crept in.
Thank you so much. I look forward to seeing your next work and watching this movie again.
Brandon Cronenberg: Great. Thanks so very much, I Appreciate it.