Review: Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)

Although Mads Mikkelsen is the poster-face and commandeering star-power of Another Round, it’s unfair to attribute all of the praise upon a sole member of the film, especially when the film boasts such an astounding ensemble cast. The director, Thomas Vinterberg, is of course another major player to anticipate. The film sees the Danish filmmaker, who famously asserted his importance in modern cinema by pioneering the controversial Dogme 95 movement alongside Lars von Trier, reunite with Mikkelsen for the first time since 2012’s The HuntAnother Round is a fitting addition to Vinterberg’s filmic canon, as, like The Hunt and Festen, masculinity plays a large thematic part. What sets Another Round aside, however, is despite continuing the fashion of middle-aged men having their lives and immediate social circles/families ruined by something deeply intimate and complex, the tone is far less devastating; in fact, it’s quite often comedic. Where the comedy stems from, however, is of a sensitive, controversial, and historically complex nature, which is alcohol abuse; or what the protagonists may justify as in their desperate case as alcohol “utilisation”.

Films I refer to/potentially spoil in this article:

–         Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)

–         The Hunt (dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

–         Festen (dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 1998)

–         The Invisible Man (dir. James Whale, 1933)

–         The Fly (dir. David Cronenberg, 1987)

–         Re-Animator (dir. Stuart Gordon, 1985)

Like any great science meets madness tale like The Invisible Man, The Fly, and Re-Animator, the four protagonist’s journey begins with the desire to explore something unique, unknown and exciting, a journey of discovery prior to them untrodden. Immediately, you can’t help but feel certain that this is their sole reason to experiment. Do they really care for results and progress, especially as the “testing” is so undemanding of them? Regardless, they proceed with their plan, and the plan is this: during the daytime, they must maintain a blood alcohol content level that never drops below 0.05%. No drinking after 8pm, no drinking at the weekend, only during working hours, just like Hemingway used to. The purpose and origin of the experiment? Because Hemingway did, and he was a genius. The guinea pigs for the experiment will be themselves, four teachers each at varying levels of feeling washed up and unenthused about life. Straight off the bat, you know this is an excuse to get wasted and be washed away with forced nostalgia, harking back to their lives as youths under the guise of experimental science. For some, such as psychology-enthused Nikolaj, it’s genuinely an interesting project. For the others (and, most probably also including Nikolaj) it’s more of a cry for help disguised as an artistic pilgrimage, a mid-life crisis justified as work. The collective interest in the project is to relieve oneself of the daily mediocrity of life, to simultaneously run drunkenly away from their problems whilst confronting their insecurities full-on with a newfound, alcohol-infused confidence.

Image result for another round
Image Credit: Variety

Another Round is remarkable at balancing the expected, juvenile humour of drunkenness with the upsetting and complicated reasons as to why one may choose to seek refuge within alcohol. One of the most upsetting scenes is when married-with-two-kids history teacher Martin, played by Mikkelsen, breaks down at a dinner party with the other teachers. Reservedly, seeming afraid to break his masculinity, he sobs. When his friends ask him what the matter is, he answers “not much”, which is precisely the nature of his anguish. He doesn’t see anyone anymore. He doesn’t do anything. Life is becoming stagnant and it’s become startlingly apparent and worrying. Despite myself being half his age, the scene is the first of many that manage to feel tragically relatable, largely due to an array of fantastic performances and a severely realistic, under-exaggerated depiction of such moments. Boldly, Another Round presents loneliness and inadequacy as a silent antagonist, reducing a man to tears on screen. For lack of a better word, thankfully Martin’s not alone in his suffering. Although less distraught, psychology teacher Nikolaj, music teacher Peter, and sports coach Tommy, all reciprocate the ideology that life isn’t what it used to be. This is when Nikolaj raises the work of a Norwegian philosopher who claims that humans are born with too low a percentage of blood alcohol content. The only appropriate thing to do from there is to order another round, setting the wheels in motion to both a great night and their newly invented project.

It’s a wonderfully original, addictive and worryingly believable premise for a film. Although an easy set-up for slapstick gags of four middle-aged drunk men diving headfirst into an absinthe-drenched midlife crisis, thankfully, Another Round is in capable hands. Writers Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm never let the film fall into the realms of the entirely predictable or generic. There are no scenes of the guys partying into a jarring, juxtaposing cut of them kneeling and hurling over a manky toilet in a manky club, nor are there any typical moments of drunken conflict with strangers, resulting in them being beaten up. Instead, the degression into the blatant negative side-effects of day-drinking is a subtle, gradual process, the mantra being “one more day of solid drinking won’t hurt” for many, many days. Not only does this enhance the dread-inducing pacing that relies on your devilish curiosity to see just how bad things can get, but it grants time for us to observe the characters development. Thanks to Dogme-esque direction, utilising its focus on realistic portrayal, Another Round becomes a scarily believable presentation of the power of choice and will-power, assessing the abstract line between selflessness and selfishness. It evokes questions about how appealing a life by your own rules could be, whatever your diminished responsibility and questionable maturity may entail. The active question isn’t the outcome of their study but their outcome as individuals, to what extent their actions will be tolerated by those close to them and whether they’ll recognise and discipline their actions before it’s too late.

The film focuses on this sugar-coating of something irresponsible, that constant justification that it’s okay to be doing what they’re doing. Alcohol also acts as a veil to their true selves. It’s hard to tell where each individual is mentally throughout the study because they’re usually inebriated. Worryingly, the experiment works wonders for them in the beginning, especially at work. Martin confronts his normally bored, stressed and resentful-of-him class with a newfound energy that reinvigorates their learning and attitudes. Peter enables his choir to reach new levels of harmony by asking them to hold hands and close their eyes as he shuts the blinds (the cloak of darkness also comically providing him with the resources to drink from his hip flask unnoticed). Tommy, the sports coach to a kid’s football team seems just as you’d expect, his inner hooligan and passion for the sport making loud, proud and hilarious appearances during training sessions. These scenes carry the film’s pacing phenomenally. It’s like being at a concert; you love the current song that’s being played, but you also miss the one before and can’t wait for the next. At any time, you wonder what the others are up to, and, thanks to fantastically realistic and loveable characterisation, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what could be occurring given the numerous alcohol-influenced possibilities.

The plot progresses in ways you may expect. Relationships worsen, work worsens, health worsens, but it’d be strange if none of that did happen; it’s accurate. How weird would it be if their wives and colleagues weren’t concerned about their sudden spike in deciding to get drunk all the time? What keeps it fresh is in the not-knowing just how bad things could get. As touched on earlier in terms of morbid curiosity, as a viewer, you act unlike yourself in a pub in real life, simply watching and laughing at those who are much drunker than you are, despite the potential darkness and severity of the circumstance. Another Round masterfully keeps several pots simmering at all times. When your focus is applied to just one, you worry about what the others are up to. There’s an astounding rawness in its ability to present socio-analytical subject matters without you having to contemplate it, whilst also not succumbing to easy gags.

Another Round is a powerful film on many levels that not only encompasses a broad range of intense themes such as self-control, living for now and substance abuse but executes them effectively in ways that make it feel personal to you. It’s easy to label the film on a surface level as funny, unique, devastating, scary, but I’m certain that everyone will take something personal from it. Take the ending, for example, which my partner interpreted as an uplifting, triumphant breakthrough, whereas I perceived it more pessimistically, a subtle hint at the slippery slope of alcoholism and the inability to ever let it go, regardless of your best intentions. In hindsight and upon further reading, I’m convinced that my partner is correct in seeing it as a happier ending, but this is exemplative of what I enjoyed about the film, which is the malleability and openness to interpretation that it offers.

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