Brandon Cronenberg & Chloe Domont direct stylish films about sex & violence among the bourgeoise wealthy.
A growing trend in Hollywood film & TV of late has been to put a mirror in front of the idle rich and mock the privileged and avaricious lifestyles they live. Some may say this is happening now because of honest self-reflection in the face of growing and untenable wealth-inequality in this country, but that just sounds gullible to me. It’s probably more so that hedonistic and openly, publicly vapid displays of self-promotion and consumerist propaganda through social media has made it easier to become famous and sponsored by doing less than ever before.
Brandon Cronenberg probably has imposter syndrome. In Infinity Pool, his central character James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) is a writer plagued by a lack of inspiration and haunted by a review that boils his career down to only having a rich father-in-law, which affords him the luxury of not needing a real job. His hang-up over this connection through his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), explodes in the open when they have a fight and he tells her to “run back to Daddy.” In formally and thematically finding a voice unto himself apart from his lineage, the younger Cronenberg has cultivated a filmography where the corporeal form is at odds with the sense of identity. His characters constantly feel like empty vessels and thus, the trauma their bodies endure are more a dissociative terror than a deeply internally felt one.
Infinity Pool takes the themes of hedonism and materialism of the rich and elite to the ultimate extent, where life and the human body itself are disposable and the fun is had in disposing them. But this isn’t a film reveling in self-serious gore and torture like Eli Roth’s Hostel series, there is a whimsy here and a ridiculousness to its violence that evokes the level of carefree materialism its rich phony protagonists carry themselves with. I still don’t think Brandon Cronenberg has an interesting sense of style, but Infinity Pool injects adequate amounts of weird energy as substitute through Mia Goth’s effervescent performance as Gabi. The movie has gained notoriety for its explicit sexuality – cumshots, orgies, and breastfeeding – but it must be noted that these sequences embody a tense humiliation more than they do ‘sexyness’ in any sense.
Similarly, to describe Chloe Domont’s Fair Play as an “erotic thriller” is to misinterpret the genre. It’s also doing a disservice to the fantastic way the director depicts the calculated insanity of her characters and their high-stakes New York hedge fund surroundings. The bars, the board meetings, the million digitized graphs and shifting numbers on computers, there’s a sense of sterility that ends up seeping into these characters lives as their work and the appetite for ladder-climbing disrupt their household. Sure, the movie has “sex scenes,” but these are often either interrupted by work, or by insecurity.
Like with Infinity Pool, the displays of wealth on hand in this movie are layered with a cutthroat tension that fully give into the immoral world it inhabits. Emily’s (Phoebe Dynevor) unexpected promotion at a hedge fund creates a rift in her engagement with Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), who is also her co-worker and now underling. The film could have easily leaned into the girl-boss power dynamic it creates in its premise, but instead, it sees Emily drawn into a world where men still rule and in order to survive she must adapt by essentially becoming one of them. Luke’s emasculated feelings after having been left behind turn their relationship into one of two people subtly turning into what the other is conditioned to be. Emily begins drinking heavily, partying, attempting to domineer sexually, and issuing deep cuts to Luke’s personality, while Luke begins to feel inadequate and creates increasingly embarrassing attempts to demand attention.
Humor is also a large part of the movie’s undercurrent, specifically in the uniquely stupid ways the characters begin breaking down in their relationship. Of course, there is a simple solution – just find another job – that would have ended this movie in 15 minutes, but these characters are deranged. They have to be to work in a hedge fund. Their increasingly poisonous jabs at each other, the way they channel their insecurities – Emily through drinking, Luke through signing up for Jordan Belfort-esque seminar scams – are all satirical elements that pierce the heart of how their careers are slowly, necessarily ruining their lives. Fair Play is a film of empty people, in an empty world trying to desperately fill it with a host of things that don’t matter while sacrificing the things that do, all in the spirit of the game.