It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
There are always a handful of films nominated for Oscars that I just don’t get around to seeing before the awards are handed out. Of those this year, was Another Round. This was one from the International Feature category, from Denmark, which I’d heard about pre-nomination due to the great Mads Mikkelson, who is truly someone I will watch in anything. This film was a hard sit at times due to its subject matter, and I’m still endlessly confused that it's been categorized as a comedy/drama because I don’t believe there was much if any real comedy to be had, but I digress. Either way, it did make an impact on me, and here’s why.
Quick summary: Four, middle-aged, friends and teachers set out to test a theory that a person is born with a lack of alcohol in their system. They intend to prove that by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood, their professional and social lives will greatly improve.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, you’d be correct in your assumption that this idea is completely mad. The four quickly go from enjoying—arguably thriving from—the effects of their experiment to becoming wildly out of control in frankly, no time at all. Because they’ve decided that, “like Hemmingway,” they will drink from 8 am — 8 pm, get a good night’s sleep, and feel refreshed for the day ahead, we see them not only sneaking drinks from their families before work but stashing bottles of liquor and flasks on campus. Again, what could go wrong?
As their individual tolerances increase and they’re still on an upward trajectory—aka, feeling good about things—they decide to change the experiment from its initial parameters—keeping a constant BAC level of 0.5%—to a percentage “based on the individual.” This leads to varying levels of drunkenness between the four, some handling it better than others, and some succumbing to its effects a bit too much. We watch as each of them struggles with what it means to be a functioning alcoholic and as each of them reaches a personal breaking point.
There’s one point in the film where one of the friends, who clearly cares about the success of his students, suggests to one who is particularly anxious about passing his exams, that he takes a few shots beforehand to “take the edge off” and help him clear his mind. While his intentions are good and his heart in the right place, this decision was all too hard to root for. It’s not only completely unorthodox but highly dangerous and reckless. It’s also setting this teacher up to be exposed should the student decide not to keep the suggestion to himself, or worse, should he take the advice and get caught. I began to feel worried for this character because it seemed to me that he was unable to separate himself from the experiment and had allowed the effects of alcohol to cloud his judgment in a way that had the potential for disastrous consequences.
And this was only the beginning.
Not long after, we see other cracks in the plan. The four begin to drink beyond their agreed-upon 8 pm cutoff, they carelessly injure themselves, turn up in the school staff room visibly inebriated, and on at least one occasion, stay out all night on a debaucherous bender only to stumble home in shambles to the horror of their families. There are also good things that happen because of the experiment, however, and these should be taken into account. For the Mads Mikkelson character especially, drinking in this way allows him to access a side of himself that he’s apparently shut off for many years and that has caused his teaching style to become stale and distant and his marriage to ostensibly unravel. Both of these things greatly improve for him during the course of the experiment, if only temporarily. Drinking seems to awaken him to what it means to be alive—although not without consequence—while it drives others of the four in the opposite direction altogether.
During the final act of the film, we watch as one of the friends (a soccer coach), shows up to a school staff meeting completely inebriated, during which the principal is discussing with the teachers the discovery of alcohol on campus, as well as rumors that it’s actually teachers who’ve been imbibing during school hours rather than students. It’s unclear exactly what happens from here, but we can guess. The coach has not only made a fool of himself professionally, but proven himself unreliable, irresponsible, and unfit to be around children. The Mads Mikkelson character takes his friend home and stays with him until he regains consciousness. We assume he’s been let go from his teaching position, although it’s not explicitly shown.
Shortly thereafter we see the coach and his dog going out on a boat—cut to a shot of the boat floating on the sea with only the dog aboard. His suicide was the wake-up call that snapped the other three friends out of their drunken stupor, so to speak, and back into reality. They end the experiment, ultimately calling it a failure destined to result in alcoholism. Fair enough. I struggled with the suicide scene mainly because the reasons for it weren’t entirely clear to me. My assumption is that losing his job was the catalyst that forced a deeper examination of his life and that the alcohol experiment helped to mask some underlying mental health issues he may have already been struggling with that he then had to confront sober. This type of realization can be hugely overwhelming, and as the film suggests, he wasn’t willing to weather that storm. That’s my conjecture, however.
While I’m not sure this film was entirely balanced, I can say that I enjoyed the exploration of the topic. There have been countless films about alcoholism, and what confused me about the ending of this one was that although alcohol essentially ended one of their lives, and caused a myriad of problems in each of the rest of theirs for the duration of the experiment, they don’t decide to abstain. Okay, so what’s the point then? I heard myself asking myself. The final scene involves the three of them drinking in wake of their friend’s funeral and coincides with the graduation celebration of their students. They all partake in drinking during this scene, first inside a restaurant—even toasting their late friend—and later in the street with their students. It’s not that I disagree with either of these things, it’s just that it confuses me. It makes me question the moral of the film, or if there is one at all. Perhaps it’s that life should be celebrated…in moderation.
Another Round is streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime.