What if humans are born with a blood alcohol content 0.05% too low?
It’s a simple, absurd question posed by the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud. It is also the central premise of Thomas Vinterberg’s 2020 feature Another Round. “What if?” ask the protagonists, four discontent middle-aged high school teachers. What if being just a little buzzed all the time made you funnier, more interesting, a better husband, better at your job? Before long they’re sneaking bottles of vodka into their school bags and stumbling bleary-eyed into the staff room. But they’re also seeing results.
Pushing the Limits
The setting of Another Round is geographically Copenhagen, but more significantly it is banality. The men’s lives are banal; they have average homes, routine jobs, and normal problems. The stakes are never too high. And yet where Vinterberg excels is in creating tension in the mundane, a skill already displayed in his 2012 Academy Award-nominated The Hunt (also starring Mads Mikkelsen). Every sip the men take increases their chances of being found out. Every stashed bottle or slurred word could lose them their jobs, their spouses, and their dignity. And yet they continue to drink, upping the original 0.05% all the way to 0.1%, then to the edge of a blackout. It’s clear Vinterberg enjoys making the audience cringe with anxiety, but to what end?
A Celebration of Alcohol… and Life
The film’s twist, if very subtle, is that it is not about alcoholism. Vinterberg explains in an Indiewire interview, “To begin with, we wanted to celebrate alcohol. But the same thing that can elevate conversation, art, and politicians also destroys families and relationships. So we wanted to look into the mental balance of liquor.”
Just as Vinterberg creates tension in the day-to-day, he finds a fragile, warm sort of beauty as well. The actors supply much of it, each interpreting their characters’ midlife crises with a different strain of melancholy. Mikkelsen is at turns stoic and vulnerable as the benumbed history teacher Martin, a charming departure from his villainous roles in NBC‘s Hannibal and the 2006 Casino Royale. When the four friends are together, they give off a palpable feeling of connection– reinforced by the consistently handheld camerawork left over from the director’s Dogme 95 days with Lars Von Trier.
Tragedy and Awakening
Attention-grabbing premise aside, Another Round is a rare, understated portrayal of men emotionally supporting each other through the tragedy of living. In this respect, it reflects its production. Just four days into filming, Vinterberg’s 19-year-old daughter Ida, slated to debut in the film, died in a car crash. Although Vinterberg was destroyed, he decided to continue production, with co-writer Tobias Lindholm stepping in to assist in directing. The stars of the film, too, conferred on how best to support their director and decided to continue normally. Yet Ida’s death couldn’t help but impact the picture. What emerged was, as Vinterberg put it, an awakening to life, an exaltation of the moment. And no scene captures it better than the finale, in which Mads Mikkelsen breaks into an impromptu jazz dance to the track What a Life by Scarlet Pleasure.
As the star himself states, “…it’s a film about embracing life, you know? Do not look into the future and envy that. Do not look into your past and regret everything. Try to live in your present. And for me, that’s what the film is all about. The alcohol is just an excuse to tell that story.”