The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes is credited with saying, “Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.” Those of us who drink may recognize that concept. A touch of alcohol can make us just a bit more outgoing, more witty, more entertaining. Of course, too much alcohol can lead in the opposite direction. In Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round (original title, Druk), that idea is central.
Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a teacher who is feeling a bit of middle-aged ennui. He’s just going through the motions at school and in his family. He’s afraid that his life has become boring. When he goes out to celebrate of his friend’s fortieth birthday, the discussion comes around to a theory propounded by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, that people need a constant blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% to be at their best. (For reference, most states have a 0.08 BAC limit for driving.) Martin and his three friends (played by Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe), also teachers, set about to test this hypothesis. They even treat it as a psychological experiment, making notes about their experiences.
Martin begins to want to connect with students, his wife, his sons. All of the friends find that sneaking that drink from time to time during the day has improved many aspects of life—even during the times they aren’t drinking. Since that 0.05 BAC did so well, they decide to step it up, to see if there’s an upper limit. That, of course, is when the troubles begin. What started out as making life better, turned into a nightmare.
In press notes, Vinterberg says, “We want to create a tribute to alcohol but it goes without saying we also want to paint a nuanced picture. Embedded in our examination of the essence of alcohol lies an acknowledgement that people die from – and are destroyed by – excessive drinking. An existence with alcohol generates life, but it also kills.” The film is full of examples of people from history who were known for their drinking, such as Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway. But even there, the film reminds us that the former led Britain in winning World War II, while the latter, in spite of great literary success, committed suicide.
I find it worth noting that the film opens with a quote from Søren Kierkegaard, and Kierkegaard comes up again later in the film as a student goes through an oral exam. Maybe it’s just because the film is Danish, but bringing a proto-existentialist theologian into the equation calls us to think in deeper terms than just watching a group of men drink. The film really asks (but knows it cannot answer) the question of if such drinking brings happiness or destruction. It holds both scenarios and reminds us that, like other aspects of life, we are in constant tension between the two.
Another Round is available on VOD
Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.