‘Another Round’ offers sobering look at our relationship with alcohol

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Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Mads Mikkelsen stars in the movie “Another Round”. The film was released on Dec. 4.

By Matt Troher, Staff Writer

Winston Churchill was said to have a glass of champagne with every meal. Ernest Hemingway would drink until 8 p.m., just long enough to get the creative juices flowing while still waking up for work the next day. There’s a line between having a drink now and then to loosen up and relax and having a full-blown problem. But just how fine is that line? That’s the question the characters in Danish writer/director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film attempt to answer.

“Another Round” follows a friend group of four dissatisfied high school teachers — lackluster history teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen); gym teacher and soccer coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen); bachelor choir director Peter (Lars Ranthe); and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) — who devise an experiment at the behest of Nikolaj, who has hopes of becoming a published author in his field. Based on a theory by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that humans were born with a blood alcohol content .05% too low, the four friends decide to uphold a constant low level of intoxication to achieve positive social and professional benefits.

Throughout their day, the teachers drink before — and during — school hours to uphold their experiment. Initially, the positive effects are clear. Students who once fell asleep during Martin’s class now actively participate with an educational joy. Peter’s choir sings like never before, and Tommy becomes a mentor to a young, gangly kid on the social outs of his team. But, most of all, their friendship becomes stronger than ever.

But as the film progresses, the positive effects give way to what we would typically associate with day drinking at the workplace, and questions about our own relationship to alcohol are raised. If a little drink helps them be better teachers, where’s the harm? And where is the line between drinking responsibly and having a problem?

Like most Scandinavian cinema, “Another Round” is subtle yet emotionally evocative. The script is reserved, much like our characters, moving forward at a constant yet entertaining pace, arriving at brief peaks of joy with a euphoric crescendo serving as the final scene of the film. Denmark, with its modern architecture and seaside towns, is beautifully captured by Director of Photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, alternating between broad daylight and backlight interior shots. The editing is carefree and flowing, and he captures the loose feeling one recognizes after a couple of drinks.

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    It’s worth noting that, following the film’s Oscar win, an American remake is in the works — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, nonetheless. I’m in strong opposition to this for two reasons. First: America’s relationship with alcohol is fundamentally different than Denmark’s. America, with its Protestant morals and conservative liquor laws, tends to view alcohol as a social taboo in regards to work and familial life. Denmark is much more liberal with its cultural attitudes towards alcohol. Danes can buy alcohol at a bar starting at age 18, and the limit drops to 16 if the alcohol content is under 16.5% and is bought in a shop.

    Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t think big-budget American cinema can do this story justice. “Another Round” is deliberately paced, and Vinterberg never hits his audience over the head with blunt moral judgments. This isn’t to say American cinema can’t be subtle, but rather that America’s pervasive Calvinist attitudes toward alcohol would influence any big-budget studio to approach this story with too much caution for its own good.

    Most college students define themselves socially by their relationship to binge drinking — either in favor of or in stark opposition against. I’d offer that neither extreme is particularly beneficial or conductive. There’s a middle ground. Drinking makes you feel good, but drinking too much can make you feel bad. But the joy expressed through our band of high school teachers in “Another Round” isn’t because of alcohol, it’s what happens through it. A few drinks with your close friends isn’t going to hurt anyone, and it’s the joy and love and connection that can happen over a few drinks that make this movie come alive. Perhaps what I love most about this film is that it doesn’t take a moral stance on alcohol further than “drink responsibly.”

    Joyful at one moment and tragic at the next, “Another Round” isn’t defined best by a single emotion — but better by the way it makes you feel about being alive. This film has made my soul sing like few in recent memory.

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