“The real voyage of discovery lies in not seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes” — Marcel Proust
Taking risks and taking responsibility can be two sides of the same coin but never seem to mesh in Thomas Vinterberg’s (“Far from the Madding Crowd”) comedy-drama Another Round, Denmark’s submission for Best Foreign Film at the 2021 Oscars. Written by Tobias Lindholm (“The Hunt”) and Vinterberg, the premise of the film lies in a dubious theory ascribed to Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skarderud who asserts that the blood-alcohol content of all human beings is always too low, a 0.05% blood-alcohol content deficit. People would be far more engaged and energetic, he argues, if they maintained a level of 0.10%. In other words, the answer to all of life’s riddles lies at the bottom of a bottle.
Vinterberg is willing to give the theory a test drive, “We’ve seen so many movies about how alcohol kills people,” he says, “but there’s a reason a lot of people drink. It can make you fly.” One is tempted to recall the old adage that if God wanted people to fly, he would have given them wings. Willing and eager to test this theory, however, are four middle-aged teachers in a public high school whose zest for life has faded like the afternoon sun: History teacher, Martin (a craggy-faced Mads Mikkelsen, “Arctic”); PE teacher and soccer coach, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen, “The Wave”); music teacher, Peter (Lars Ranthe, “Hunting Season”); and psychology teacher, Nikolaj (Magnus Millang, “Heavy Load”), all with seemingly nothing to give their lives true meaning in spite of having advantages that three-quarters of the world’s population would beg for.
The film begins with a fun drinking game and ends with more drinking fun, but there’s a world of pain in between. Vinterberg coaxes excellent performances from his four leading men and we root for them. At the beginning of the experiment which includes drinking while at work during the day, results appear to be 95% effective, though they will soon require a booster shot. Martin, whose history lessons have ranged from dull to comatose, achieves liftoff after a few drinks and engages his students in a fun game of choosing which one of three unnamed people make better role models, the heavy drinkers: Churchill and Hemingway, or the vegetarian, non-drinker Adolf Hitler.
For the students in this incongruously small class, Hitler seems to be the obvious choice, one that allows Martin to make the point that the world does not always meet our expectations. Peter inspires his choir to sing from the heart. Tommy instills confidence (and some hitherto unseen soccer skills) in a diminutive youngster known not so endearingly as “Specs,” while Nikolaj handles an anxiety-ridden student with tact and understanding, and his dead-on-arrival marriage to Amalie (Helene Reingaard Neumann, “The Command”) also becomes revived. Each man responds to the experiment in different ways but the warm friendship and camaraderie of the four men remains constant.
Eventually, they decide that if a little alcohol can work such wonders, why not try a little more? Layers of sadness soon bubble up and the men are forced to reevaluate how much satisfaction they have been experiencing in their relationships and in their jobs. As the amount of drinking increases, however, so does the downward spiral and the loss of a job by one teacher after he was caught staggering and mumbling in school. At home, Martin virtually ignores his two sons while his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie, “Becoming Astrid”) works at night. He asks Anika if she thinks he’s a bore, a characterization the viewer has long since concluded in the positive. Her reply that “you are not the same person that I once knew” is hardly surprising and the passive and affectless Martin cannot raise enough emotion to tell her that he is leaving, except for a few sudden outbursts of anger on his way out the door. There are more traumas to follow, but overall Vinterberg makes drinking quite an acceptable way to bond and enjoy yourself without the word alcoholism ever coming up.
While Another Round examines the tug of war between celebrating life and acting irresponsibly, the film’s message is ambiguous. Vinterberg says that he and Lindholm “deliberately avoided having a message.” The film he asserts is, “a survey and exploration not only of alcohol usage but of the uncontrollable. It is just a catalyst for talking about being inspired in life.” I guess drinking can be a wonderful thing unless it destroys your life and that of those around you. “You find a lot of AA people in the cinemas who feel they’ve been betrayed,” Vinterberg says, “They’ve seen how bad it can go, and it’s an interesting open end, I guess.” Do tell.