Another Round

The story of four middle-aged men in Denmark who decide to engage in a psychological experiment: to see whether living life slightly tipsy makes them better teachers.  Their teaching actually improves, and they confirm that having a drink (or two) helps to put one’s troubles aside temporarily and live and in the moment (surprise, surprise).  Their personal lives take some unexpected turns, however.  Just like with car performance, your life on alcohol may vary.  For the characters in this movie, it’s a choice between soberly dealing with depression and regret on a daily basis, or letting yourself be free enough to let loose and dance.  Highly recommended (unless you’re a teetotaler).

Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

Homer Simpson

When Another Round led off with quotes from Kierkegaard (see below), I thought the movie was maybe a dry, sad examination of life viewed through existentialism.  That is not the case, I’m glad to report.  The first scene in Another Round features a bunch of high schoolers participating in a drinking contest called the lake race.  Teams carry a case of beer around a lake in Copenhagen, drinking (and vomiting) as they go.  After the race, a group of the revelers take their party on the road.  They board a bus, offer beer to the other riders, and continue being crunk (crazy drunk).  Surprisingly, Another Round (Druk in Danish) isn’t about the youngsters we just saw, however.  It is about their teachers.

The morning after the drunken mischief, the principal discusses last night’s events disapprovingly at a roundtable for teachers and the administrative staff.  She proposes instituting a zero-alcohol policy next semester, to which one teacher rhetorically asks another, how that would be enforced, since it would require shutting down the town.

We next see four teachers in their respective classrooms.  Tommy is the gym teacher, Peter focuses on music and philosophy, Nikolaj teaches psychology and Martin teaches history.  Each of them struggle to gain the attention of their unmotivated students.  The teachers are bored with their jobs, and the students are bored with their teachers.

When Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) first appeared on screen, I could tell something was off about him.  While his face and hair were touched by the sun, his nature was withdrawn and quiet.  In his class, he struggles with the lesson, absently drifting between the Industrial Age, Winston Churchill and World War I.  If I hadn’t known beforehand that the movie was about drinking, I would have thought Martin was suffering from dementia.  As it turns out, Martin is depressed, and lacks the wherewithal to focus on anything in his life.  One student becomes fed up with Martin’s “teaching” and walks out of class.

Life at home for Martin is not much better.  His family is disconnected.  Dinner is a strained, quiet affair.  Martin’s wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) works midnights, and before she leaves he asks her if he’s become boring.  She admits that he is not the same Martin she first met.  Clearly, Martin is suffering from a midlife “something”.  Not a crisis, though.  Martin isn’t looking for an affair, or interested in buying an Audi.  I would diagnose him as having a “midlife malaise”, where nothing in his life interests or excites him anymore.  As Austin Powers would say, he’s lost his mojo.

Things do not improve for Martin the following day.  The seniors in his classroom (and several parents) confront him.  They are concerned that his lackluster instruction will put them at risk of failing their oral exams.  Martin is clearly hurt by the confrontation, but instead of being angry at the accusation, he internalizes it, incredibly proposing he could find them another instructor.

Later that evening, Martin picks up fellow teacher Tommy for dinner to celebrate Nikolaj’s fortieth birthday.  They meet Nikolaj and Peter at a high-end restaurant.  Martin refuses to drink because he’s driving, but that doesn’t stop the others from drinking an impressive array of beer, champagne vodka and wine.

Nikolaj discusses (real life) Norwegian philosopher and psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who claimed that humans are born with a blood alcohol content that’s 0.05% too low.  This is the equivalent of 1-2 drinks.  According to Skarderud, when you maintain a 0.05 BAC (blood alcohol content), you’re more relaxed, poised, musical, open and courageous.  Nikolaj naturally plays armchair psychiatrist and diagnoses that Martin’s problems are due to a lack of self-confidence and joy.  Martin relents and starts drinking with his friends.  Eventually, the alcohol loosens Martin’s tongue.  He confesses that he rarely talks to anybody, especially his wife.  In addition to loneliness, Martin also suffers from regret, having to pass up a research position to help raise his sons.  When Tommy mentions that Martin studied jazz ballet when he was young, it’s obvious that Martin hasn’t danced in a long time.

Martin isn’t alone struggling with middle age. Nikolaj professes to have everything he could want.  He has a beautiful wife and three kids, but his wife is a ballbuster and he rarely sleeps through the night.  Tommy is single, possibly divorced.  He lives alone except for an old dog that can barely move around.  Peter wishes he had children, and believes that his students will forget all about him after they graduate.

After an evening of letting loose with his friends, Martin decides to try out Skårderud’s regular drinking regime.  To his surprise, he leads an engaging discussion with his class.  While he does trip up on saying “industrialization”, he’s relaxed and energetic.  Based on Martin’s initial positive experience, the four decide to jointly test the Skårderud hypothesis, “collecting evidence” under the auspices of writing a psychological essay.  They will use Hemmingway’s practice of drinking all day until 8:00 PM as their cutoff point.  (No drinking on the weekends, natch.)

Tommy, the regular drinker of the group, is nearly caught by the school janitor.  Martin,  undeterred, wants the group to double their BAC to 1%.  He hasn’t felt this good in years, and believes his teaching has never been better.  The “scientific evidence” gathered by the four  appears to prove Martin right.  While under a higher level of influence, the group continues to see a noticeable improvement in their teaching.  Martin continues to lead insightful discussions on historical figures, even though he occasionally runs into walls.  Tommy befriends a shy young boy on the soccer team he coaches, helping him gain confidence.  Peter finds a new way to get students to sing together.  Nikolaj regains his classroom confidence as well.

Martin’s newfound inebriation does yield some unexpected results.  His wife is reluctant to agree to a fall canoeing vacation.  When she said she preferred to stay at home, working the midnight shift, I immediately guessed that she was having an affair.  The canoeing trip goes well, however.  Anika confides to Martin that she missed them being a couple, she qualifies that by saying he may have missed their relationship for too long (bingo).

The four decide to see if they can experience “ignition”, which is the point after having 7-10 units of alcohol.  Either you get tired and go home, or you want to drink even more.  Nikolaj wants to drink to the point beyond ignition, what he calls the “ultimate catharsis” or “total oblivion”.  (In the States, we would call this “getting shitfaced”.)  They proceed to drink copious sazerac cocktails, Martin joining them after some initial reluctance.  They definitely ignite, and proceed to drunkenly explore the world outside.  The fallout is extremely negative for Martin and Nikolaj, and Tommy rapidly descends into alcoholism  .

While Another Round does acknowledge the problem of binge drinking, it is not a serious examination of the issue.  The heavy drinking practiced by the students is shown as funny youthful indiscretions.  Excessive drinking by an adult like Tommy is depicted as troubling.  The movie declines to connect the two, even though clinical evidence clearly shows there is a direct link between youthful binge drinking and adult alcoholism.  This reluctance on behalf of filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg may irritate (or infuriate) those on the side of the limited to no drinking side of the argument, and I would understand their feelings on this issue.  In all fairness, Another Round is not a news program or a documentary; its views on drinking are more philosophical in nature.

Some may also take issue with Peter’s suggestion to one of his students suffering from severe anxiety, namely to drink a bit before his oral exams.  According to Peter, it will help him relax and talk freely.  Is Peter’s advice irresponsible?  Many kids today are regularly prescribed a variety of medications, to help them deal with issues including ADHD and anxiety.  Provocatively, Another Round suggests that there may not be much of a difference between drinking and taking a psychotropic drug prescribed by a doctor.  Besides confirming that the student passed his exams, the movie unfortunately doesn’t explore this idea further.

The only actor in Another Round I was familiar with was Mads Mikkelsen, who was terrific in Arctic (2018).  Casting him as Martin was a brilliant choice.  With his gravelly voice, deep set  eyes and thin, pursed lips, he appears on the verge of crying in most scenes.  All of the actors acquit themselves well, but Martin is the one who undergoes the biggest transformation, which I would expect for the star of the movie.

Ultimately, the message behind Another Round isn’t to drown one’s sorrows with booze.  The movie shows that regular drinking can lead to alcoholism.  When taken in moderation, however, it can help you relax, free you of your inhibitions, reduce your feelings of anxiety, and generally make you feel better.  When the four maintain an 0.05 limit of alcohol throughout the day, the teachers find ways to make their jobs fun.  They are looser, freer.  They forget about the routine of their profession and find ways to engage with their students.

Another Round tells us that while life may be difficult, we don’t have to let it beat us down.  When we are sober, we can’t help but focus on the negative elements of our lives.  Drinking in moderation can help us to let go of our disappointments and instead enjoy life, even if it’s only temporary.  Life itself is temporary, so instead of feeling down and feeling depressed about it, why not have a drink (or two)?

After seeing this movie, I have no doubt that the Danes absolutely love their native country.  Denmark’s national anthem is sung several times, as well as “In Denmark I was born”, which serves as an alternative national anthem.  The countryside on display in Another Round, to put it succinctly, is beautiful.  Gå Danmark!

What is Youth?  A dream. What is Love?  The content of the dream.


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