Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe
Dogme 95 alumnus Thomas Vinterberg returns with Another Round, a multifaceted and immersive drama unique to the director’s keen sensibilities. When four middle-aged men who work in education reflect on their lives, they come to the conclusion that they’ve reached a stale and monotonous existence. Martin (Mikkelsen), a history teacher lacking enthusiasm, Tommy (Larsen), a depressed soccer coach, and exhausted professors Nikolaj (Millang) and Peter (Ranthe) discuss Norwegian physicist Skårderud’s theory that humans were born lacking a blood alcohol content volume of at least 0.05%, and decide to try and maintain that level as a social experiment. While there are immediate positive results that come along with alcohol’s tendency to relax and raise a drinker’s spirits, there are inevitable consequences that await the four colleagues on their search for existential meaning.
Vinterberg is extraordinary in presenting multiple threads that tie directly into alcohol abuse with subtle and meticulous observation. The men have a clear affinity for masculine tropes, the great men of history who, with the help of alcohol, made their stamp on the modern world while inebriated. There’s a significant emphasis given to men like Hemingway and Churchill, allowing our protagonists to feed their romanticized alcoholism as a scapegoat to avoid any internal criticism. Paired with an unwavering awareness of Danish nationalism, alcohol as a way of life, or as the way of life, solidifies their shield against condemnation.
While it would have been easy to traverse the narrative through a downward spiral lens like Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000), there is nothing preachy whatsoever about Another Round. This isn’t an After School Special fixed on convincing audiences of the dangers of drinking. Instead, alcohol is the instrument in which we can wholly understand these characters from an unfiltered and unprejudiced perspective. While there are undoubtedly negative repercussions from their experiment, there are also moments of pure and unabashed joy.
The lack of obtuse or bombastic set pieces reflecting alcoholism’s negative ramifications allows the film to breathe and stand taller than its peers of addiction-focused cinema. While it’s far from a meditative slow burn, having every turn come from organic character beats instead of blatant heavy handed episodes adds to the film’s themes and overall naturalism. A lesser filmmaker would be tempted to seek surface level melodrama, but here, the moral ambiguities of the human condition are placed in the driver’s seat.
The spectrum of alcohol consumption in everyday life, to celebrate or to grieve, to party or to wallow, relies on the consumer and their needs. Is alcohol necessary to live or does it add to a fulfilled life? Vinterberg never pretends to have the answer. It’s both and neither. It just is.