April 18, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Danish with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Demark, the dramatic film “Another Round” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people and South Asian people) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Four middle-aged men, who are friends and teachers at the same high school, decide to drink more alcohol as an experiment, but they begin to abuse alcohol, which causes problems in their lives.
Culture Audience: “Another Round” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching well-acted and realistic movies about alcoholism and how people deal with mid-life crises.
When there are movies about the culture of people who binge-drink alcohol in groups, the stories usually focus on young people who get into misadventures because of their drunken antics. The Danish dramatic film “Another Round” defies that stereotype with a compelling tale about four middle-aged men who become binge drinkers together. And these four pals find out how quickly their lives can be consumed by alcohol addiction.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (who co-wrote the screenplay with Tobias Lindholm), “Another Round” is more than just another mid-life crisis story. It’s a sharply observant commentary on what can happen when people are bored and unsatisfied with their lives, and they live in a society where heavy drinking is not only accepted, but it’s also encouraged. Anchored by exemplary performances from the primary actors, “Another Round” stands out as a highly unique film about the causes and effects of alcohol abuse.
That’s not to say that the filmmakers of “Another Round” have portrayed Denmark as a country with too many drunks. But it becomes clear from watching the film that the country has laws about drinking alcohol that are much more lenient than other countries. Denmark’s minimum legal age to drink alcohol in public is 18 years old, while children ages 17 and younger are legally able to drink alcohol in private settings, such as in homes.
It’s in this alcohol-permissive society that viewers meet the four friends who are at the center of the story. They all work as teachers in the same high school in an unnamed city in Demark. And they are all experiencing some kind of dissatisfaction with their lives, which leads them to make an unusual pact to drink enough to have at least a 0.05% alcohol level in their blood every day.
The four friends are:
- Martin (played by Mads Mikkelsen), who is in his mid-50s, is a history teacher at the school. He and his wife Anika (played by Maria Bonnevie) have two sons together: Jonas (played by Magnus Sjørup) is about 16 or 17, while Kasper (played by Silas Cornelius Van) is about 14 or 15.
- Tommy (played by Thomas Bo Larsen), who is in his late 50s, is a physical education teacher at the school, and he also is a soccer coach for children in the 8-to-10-year-old age range in elementary school. Tommy is a bachelor with no children.
- Peter (played by Lars Ranthe), who is in his early 50s, is a music teacher at the school. He is also a bachelor with no children.
- Nikolaj (played by Magnus Millang), who celebrates his 40th birthday in the movie, is a psychology teacher at the school. He and his wife Amalie (played by Helene Reingaard Neumann) have three sons under the age of 8 years old, including a newborn.
Why are these men going through a mid-life crisis?
Martin and Anika’s marriage has become cold and distant, which also describes how Martin currently feels about teaching. His sons and his students don’t seem to respect him very much, since they barely listen to him. Viewers will get the impression that Martin has been in the same job for years without a promotion.
And recently, Martin has come under criticism by several of his students and their parents, who have a meeting with Martin to pressure him to bring their children’s grades up in the history class, so that their children can get into the universities of their choice. The parents want to blame Martin for not being a better teacher, but he answers defensively that maybe the students who are floundering just aren’t paying attention in class: “It’s not easy to learn when you’ve got your head stuck in your phone.”
Tommy is getting close to retirement age and he doesn’t have much to show for it except for his elderly dog and a house where he feels lonely. Out of all of the four friends, Tommy seems to care the least about what other people will think about him. He can be fun-loving, but he has a grouchy side to him too.
Peter laments that he hasn’t found his true love yet. He also expresses regret that he isn’t a parent. And he feels sad that his students (whom he sees somewhat as his surrogate kids) seem to forget about him after they graduate. Peter is the one in the group who is most likely to be sensitive to his students’ needs and is willing to give them extra help outside of class hours. There’s a subplot in the movie about Peter taking an interest in counseling and advising an anxiety-prone student named Sebastian (played by Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt), who’s feeling pressure to pass a certain class or else he will be held back from graduating for another year.
Nikolaj is frustrated (and sleep-deprived) by the demands of being a father of three very young children, which means that he has less free time to himself. His two older sons (who are bedwetters) sleep in the same bed with Nikolaj, while his wife has recently been sleeping in the same bed as the baby. A few of the movie’s more comical scenes are about bedwetting moments at Nikolaj’s house. And when Nikolaj is drunk, it’s not always the kids who are urinating in the bed.
One evening, the four buddies have a fateful dinner at a restaurant to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday. Nikolaj admits that he should be happy with his life: He has a beautiful and healthy family, he likes his job, his wife comes from a wealthy family, and they live in a nice seafront house. However, Nikolaj feels somewhat “trapped” by his routine life.
During this dinner party, it’s brought up in the conversation that the school’s faculty have heard that Martin is under scrutiny by parents of his students for not being an effective-enough teacher. Martin’s eyes starts to well up with tears, and his friends comfort him and ask him what’s really bothering him. He confesses that his marriage has gotten stale, he feels lonely, his kids don’t appreciate him, and he thinks he could have accomplished much more in his life. When someone asks Martin if he’s thought about having an affair, Martin replies that he’s not interested in cheating on Anika.
“I don’t know how I ended up like this,” Martin says with a defeated tone of voice. Peter mentions that years ago, Martin was expected to become a research professor at a university, but it never happened. Peter asks Martin why he didn’t live up to that potential. Martin says that at the time, his children were young and he just didn’t apply to grad school to get a Ph.D.
It’s also mentioned during the dinner that Martin used to take jazz ballet lessons. Tommy says that Martin’s dancing was so good, that Martin could have passed as a professional dancer. Martin endures some good-natured teasing from his pals, who try to get him to show some jazz ballet dance moves at the dining table. Martin laughs but ultimately refuses. However, since all of them have been drinking alcohol at this dinner, their inhibitions are lowered, and Tommy and Peter get up and briefly give separate dances at the table.
It’s at this dinner that Nikolaj comes up with an idea that will be the catalyst for the rest of the story: He talks about the real-life theory of Norwegian philosopher/psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who thinks that human beings are born with a blood deficiency of 0.05% alcohol. And therefore, it’s in people’s best interest to maintain at least 0.05% alcohol in their blood content every day. Skårderud believes that alcohol can generally make people more relaxed, more open to possibilities, and more creative.
Nikolaj suggests that they all try out this theory by drinking enough alcohol every day to have a constant blood alcohol content of at least 0.05%. They all go back to Nikolaj’s house to immediately begin testing the theory. Nikolaj goes to his computer to take notes, as if he’s taking this experiment seriously enough that he could write a research report about it. But over time, any “scientific research” that was intended quickly turns into excuses for the men to get drunk instead of tipsy.
That first night that they test the theory at Nikolaj’s place, he laces the drinks with absinthe. They all get “happy drunk” and have a good time. But the experiment requires that they drink during the day, which is something that Martin is uncomfortable with at first. They also have their own breathalyzers, and the movie has frequent on-screen indicators showing what their respective blood-alcohol levels are.
Eventually, all four men end up drinking while they’re on the job. They hide their liquor in the school’s gym depot that Tommy and only a few other school staffers have access to during regular school hours. It should come as no surprise that another school employee finds this secret stash of liquor. The movie shows what happens after this discovery.
At first, the four pals’ increased alcohol consumption seems to have positive effects. Martin becomes more confident and entertaining in his class. His enthusiasm is infectious to the point where he can get the entire class to laugh at his jokes. Martin and Anika also rekindle their love life, and it looks like the passion has returned to their marriage.
Tommy becomes a more jovial and motivational coach instead of being a grump with a tendency to give a lot of critiques. Peter comes up with more ideas to inspire his music students. Nikolaj also seems to be getting better results as a teacher, although he has the least number of movie scenes that show him as a teacher.
One day, Nikolaj is walking in the school hallway when he passes by Martin’s class and hears Martin’s students roaring with laughter at a joke that Martin told. Nikolaj looks surprised and a little envious. Not long after that, Nikolaj announces to the other three friends that all four of them should increase their blood-alcohol content as far as they can. It’s easy to guess what the results will be, but it’s no less riveting to watch.
“Another Round” takes place over the course of an academic school year (about nine months), and the movie shows how quickly alcohol abuse can turn into addiction. What started out as an experiment so that the men could gain confidence and creativity through alcohol turns into a dependency on alcohol where they start to lose control in major areas of their lives. Unlike their young students (who are shown binge drinking in the movie’s opening scene), the four middle-aged pals do not have the metabolism to bounce back as quickly from hangovers.
Their addiction to alcohol comes out in ways besides binge drinking. In their conversations, they start talking about famous drunks/alcoholics who excelled in their careers while they had a drinking problem. Martin and Nikolaj in particular like to come up with examples, as if to justify what they know is their own increasing addictions to alcohol. Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill are mentioned frequently in these discussions.
Martin also tries to ingratiate himself with his students during his class lectures, by mentioning alcohol binge drinking as an acceptable way to relax and be creative. He gets them to open up to the rest of the class about how much alcohol they drink on a weekly basis, and he doesn’t judge students who admit to excessive drinking. In fact, Martin jokes with them about their drinking habits.
And there’s a memorable scene where Martin asks the students which one of three unnamed political candidates they could vote for if they had the choice. He describes Candidate No. 1 as someone who has polio, drinks a lot, and cheats on his wife. Candidate No. 2 is an alcoholic who isn’t well-liked by his political peers and has already lost several elections. Candidate No. 3 almost never drinks, is kind to women, and has a reputation of being very focused on his job. Not surprisingly, the students say that they would vote for Candidate No. 3, until Martin reveals that Candidate No. 1 is Franklin D. Roosevelt, Candidate No. 2 is Winston Churchill, and Candidate No. 3 is Adolph Hitler.
In this scene where Martin points out that many powerful leaders were actually drunks, “Another Round” director Vinterberg shows a wry sense of humor by inserting some real-life video news montages or photos of world leaders drinking alcohol while on the job or appearing to be intoxicated in public. In photos, Angela Merkel is shown holding up a stein of beer; Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev are toasting each other with liquor. There’s also archival footage of Boris Yeltsin stumbling and slurring his words at government appearances.
“Another Round” realistically shows the highs and lows of what Martin, Peter, Tommy and Nikolaj experience as they have similar yet different reactions to their alcohol “experiment.” All of them get hooked on drinking alcohol every day, but two of the men want to quit the experiment after they see the negative effects of their alcohol dependency. Because the movie is mainly from Martin’s perspective, the movie gives the most screen time to how his alcohol addiction changes his life.
There are good times and bad times for all of the four friends. The alcohol makes them want to forget the bad times and create good times that they want to remember. However, the alcohol increasingly becomes the cause for the bad times. And that’s why the alcohol addiction (or any addiction) becomes a vicious cycle.
Mikkelsen’s fascinating portrayal of Martin is one that many viewers can find relatable, even without the alcohol addiction. It’s an outstanding performance of a character who sees himself as an “ordinary” person. One of the highlights of the film is a scene where Mikkelsen has to show a lot of impressive physical agility. What’s even more admirable is that Mikkelsen did not use any stunt/body doubles for this scene, according to the “Another Round” production notes.
“Another Round” doesn’t judge alcoholic behavior as much as it lays bare what attracts people to alcohol, how peer pressure plays a role in many alcohol addictions, and how people handle the problem of addiction differently, depending on the individual. The cinematography from Sturla Brandth Grøvlen adds realism to the movie, since the entire film was shot with hand-held cameras. Therefore, when Martin or some of the other characters are drunk, the camera sways along like an intoxicated person too, so viewers can almost experience what these characters are feeling in that particular scene.
What’s most authentic about “Another Round” is that it doesn’t follow a stereotypical narrative that movies tend to have when they’re about people who become alcoholics. Yes, the movie does show consequences to the reckless actions that happen because of alcohol intoxication. But even if something bad happens, it doesn’t necessarily make people want to suddenly stop drinking alcohol.
“Another Round” poses a lot of questions, knowing that there are no easy answers, because so much depends on the complexities of individuals. What’s the difference between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic? Can an alcoholic quit drinking without rehab or any counseling? At what point should someone get an “intervention”? Regardless of how people feel that about the ways that binge drinking and alcoholism are portrayed in “Another Round,” the movie succeeds in telling these characters’ stories in such an impactful way that it will make viewers think about these characters long after seeing the movie.
Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Another Round” in select U.S. cinemas on December 4, 2020, and on digital and VOD on December 18, 2020. The movie’s DVD release date was March 30, 2021. “Another Round” is also available for streaming on Hulu.