2017 San Francisco International Film Festival: “Infinity Baby” is writer Onur Tukel and director Bob Byington’s vision of a “not-so-distant” Orwellian future in which abortion is illegal and stem cell research on fetuses has no government regulation. The title has several meanings: it refers to the company within the story that ties each character together, the service they offer (newborn babies that never age so that parents never get “empty nest syndrome”) and the way men are portrayed in the film. In this dystopian future, the men, the CEO of Infinity Baby, Neo (Nick Offerman), two gay Infinity Baby delivery carriers, Larry (Kevin Corrigan) and Malcolm (Martin Starr) and Infinity Baby board executive, Ben (Kieran Culkin), Neo’s entitled nephew, all act like children; in a sense, they act like emotionally stunted babies, doing and saying whatever they please.
How there came to be such a company, seemingly evading anti-trust laws (perhaps eliminated in this future), in the context of such an extreme sociopolitical landscape, is explained in a stylish, “The Big Short”-esque breaking-the-fourth wall fashion by Neo as he walks through his luxurious office:
When abortion was made illegal on a federal level, Congress passed stem cell laws to placate the left. The Republicans said, ‘You give us abortion, and we’ll give the Democrats stem cell research.’ That allowed pharmaceutical giants like our parent company, *BLEEPED*, to proceed with a number of stem cell experiments on human fetuses. Now, at some point, there was a botched experiment; a thousand or so babies inherited this defect. No one can figure out what caused it, and no one knows how to reverse it. *BLEEPED* started a subsidiary, Infinity Baby, to find homes for these babies. And that’s what we do.
That monologue provides a surprisingly logical, albeit extreme context for this possible future. T0day, women’s reproductive rights are being threatened, and stem cell research has already arrived, prompting countless ethical issues about the moral questions surrounding stem cell experimentation. In our story, Infinity Baby is so profitable, it pays each customer $20,000 to take each baby, which is seen as a “surplus,” a “cost of doing business,” not a human being. It comes with two medications that each parent gives to the baby to reduce the amount of work of caring for it: one that reduces the amount of food needed for sustenance, and one that reduces the amount of times the baby needs to relieve his or herself. In return, the parent gets a baby that occupies their idle time, sleeps a lot, and “coos,” a quality meant to therapeutically ease the parent for stress relief.
Of all the male characters, Ben is the most emotionally stunted. He pays his friend, Hester (Megan Mullally, real-life wife of Offerman), to act as his mom and pretend to hate each girl he introduces her to in order to dump them, because he does not have the mental tools to do it himself. He tells these women that “the relationship can’t go forward if my mom doesn’t like you.” Ben simply does not know how to commit, and each time he finds a woman that likes him, he runs. He decides he does not want women anymore, but rather to revert back to “girls.” He wants to do drugs all the time and numb his mind without thinking about anything else. Ben thinks women should “do as they’re told.” This rhetoric epitomizes the regressive thought and flawed masculinity that we see too often today in not only our own social circles, but in men in positions of power and influence.
Larry and Malcolm end up caring for a baby (the adult voice of which is also the narrator of the film, spoken by actress Lydia Tracy in retrospect) that its scheduled parent did not want in order to obtain the $20,000. Larry does not feel he can be publicly gay in this society, which pressures him to speak to women based on how he sees other men speak to them, based on how he thinks a man should act towards a woman. He cat calls them and objectifies their bodies, despite being extremely uncomfortable doing it, while Malcolm incessantly apologizes on his behalf. The baby prompts problems within their relationship, and tests their respective abilities to commit to each other. After all, the ultimate test of a lasting relationship is raising a kid together.
Throughout the film, there are periodic flashes to an interview that Neo conducts for a new Infinity Baby employee applicant. Neo does not know how to talk to other men without belittling them. He says to the man that “Blue Collar” refers to the shackles that slaves wore around their necks on the ships to the Americas during the slave trade, and that is what he is, proceeding to comically call him “white boy” as a means to demean him. Neo (the Donald Trump of this story) represents the greedy businessman with a Napoleon complex and a bruised ego.
Through the child’s narration, Tukel articulates the theme of carelessness towards reproduction and childcare in the film: “This is a story about what happens to this baby. Making babies is easy, taking care of them is the punishment. A hug, that’s all it took. Turned out to be relevant to the process.” The cure to curbing this stunted growth, seen in many forms throughout the film, in that sense, is found through simple love and affection. Alas, the unified message throughout the film is best summed up in another meta moment at the end of the film as Malcolm walks out of a movie theater. In the last lines of “Infinity Baby,” Malcolm describes why he found the film distasteful:
Because the characters didn’t really change much from the beginning to the end; they stayed the same. It’s kind of a big deal, because in a movie, when a character is flawed, makes a mistake or series of mistakes, they can change. They can grow up. Growing up is important.
Indeed it is. With a dazzling, intentionally fragmented score by hip-hop artist Aesop Rock that adds depth to the already textured story, this absurdist but intellectually stimulating satire hits most of the right notes, and finds humor even in its bleakest moments.