Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round has a lot more going on than even its eccentric premise would suggest. Here is a film that takes a great insecurity felt within many and, through its inciting incident and further, uses it as a means of celebrating openness and confronting fear. I liked it very much when it premiered at 2020’s London Film Festival. Watching it again, I feel this is a film that gets better with repeated viewings.
Mads Mikkelsen reunites with Vinterberg after 2012’s gripping The Hunt. Mikkelsen plays Martin, a high school history teacher who has become disillusioned with life. He feels disconnected from his wife, and seems bored of his own lessons. Even his students – who would rather spend their time drinking and partying – can see this. Martin’s friends and fellow teachers, Tommy, Peter and Nickolaj (Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang respectively), are feeling similar waves of emptiness.
Springboarding from their students’ drinking habits, they discuss the work of physiatrist Finn Skarderud; specifically his theory that having a blood alcohol content of 0.05% makes you less anxious and more energised. Martin puts this theory to the test, by having a small drink at work. He finds himself more relaxed, and far more engaging in his teaching. As such, the friends decide to start day drinking as a means of testing Skarderud’s theory. But an experiment this problematic can only work for so long.
It would have been easy for Another Round to fall on one side of the alcoholism debate or the other – Vinterberg was partially inspired by Danish drinking culture after all. Yet its stance is refreshingly nuanced. This is because, deep down, this is a grander examination of the anxieties of life, and the fallibilities of masculinity. Another Round is only about drinking on the surface level, much like how Jaws is only about a shark on the surface level.
Each of the four central characters feel a degree of incompleteness within their lives. They are bored of the mundanity and routine, and feel as though they have lost their sense of self. It is a feeling shared by billions of people, including many men who become further disparaged when they feel they must adhere to stereotypical ideals of masculinity, be it strength or breadwinning. It can make many emotionally closed off unless some sort of coping mechanism is introduced into the mix. Often you see exercise or sport or even writing as a means of this, but, as the group continues to experiment, alcohol becomes less of a hypothesis and more of a crutch.
Vinterberg’s script and filmmaking match the constantly changing nature of alcoholic intakes brilliantly. There is a blunt kitchen sink realism reminiscent of The Hunt or Festen to the moments of depression, and an ominous sense of uncertainty when the men’s reliance on alcohol goes too far, such as an especially uncomfortable confrontation between Martin and his wife. Yet, during the scenes of intoxication, be it marginally or totally, there is a brilliant colourfulness to the cinematography, editing, and acting. Where there was once depression there is now a lustfulness for fun. Some of the best scenes involve the creative spins Martin, while tipsy, brings to his classes in order to convey his subject, including a great lesson on perspective that involves his class accidentally electing Hitler in a theoretical election.
That particular scene, and many others, highlight what I believe the themes and message of the film is – that coping mechanisms, while understandable and even needed sometimes, are no replacement for accepting our flaws. Another Round is not outright condoning drinking, but it acknowledges that over relying on it can quickly escalate to scapegoating. If we instead face ourselves, and reconcile with our imperfection lives and characters, then the better equipped we are to deal with disillusionment or anxiety, be it around ageing, masculinity, or the unknowns of the future, of which the chosen setting of a Danish high school only further reinforces. As the narrative progresses, and the consequences of the men’s drinking, both positive and negative, mount up, these lessons become more apparent. This crescendos into a climatic sequence involving Mads Mikkelsen’s dance moves, which not only encapsulates the euphoria of embracing life, but may be one of the most exuberant things I’ve ever seen.
Add it all up and what we get is a beguiling joyride with humour, melancholy, and wisdom all in abundance. From the terrific performances to the even-handedly eccentric and sombre direction to the clever double meaning of its title, Another Round is as fun and life-affirming as it is splendidly realised and crafted. Much like catching up with a great friend over pints in the pub, you can’t help but want more of it.
Another Round hits cinemas July 2nd.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindhol
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Maria Bonnevie