Being a writer that discusses both movies and alcohol, I occasionally find myself in a bit of a moral predicament. Drinking is a double edged sword; it’s exciting and liberating when its at its best, and terrible and life-ruining at its worst. It’s something I try not to glorify too much while still being an active participant and consumer. When a film comes along that involves copious amounts of drinking, whether it be shown as a fun pastime or a crippling addiction, I’m always hesitant to cover it out of fear of making light of a problematic issue that millions of people have faced.
But when a special type of film comes around that attempts to show the effects of drinking, the good and the bad, on an individual and a society, I absolutely have to talk about it. Another Round (also known by its Danish name Druk) tells the tale of four middle aged teachers, Martin, Tommy, Nikolaj and Peter. Finding themselves in a mundane, unfulfilled part of their lives, they decide to conduct a social experiment on themselves based on a theory from Norwegian psychotherapist Finn Skårderud. The theory states that humans are naturally born with a blood alcohol level (BAC) .05% too low, and by achieving a BAC of .05% you will find yourself to be braver, creative and passionate. Thus, our four guinea pigs attempt to maintain that steady buzz during their jobs in hopes of reigniting the spark of their youth. However, their experimentation naturally threatens to go far beyond their intended goal, diving headfirst into the dangers of overconsumption.
Drinking is and has always been a pivotal element of many societies. When the moment of celebration arises, there’s perhaps a no more common tradition than toasting over a body-altering elixir. For us Americans, this could be a birthday, a sports win or just needing to get out of the house. It makes us feel good, so naturally, we also turn to it when we’re sad. That desire to feel good again when we’re at our lowest is what commonly leads to alcohol abuse and alcohol-related disorders. Nearly 15 million people in the United States had Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as of a 2019 census, with United States spending a whopping $249 billion on alcohol misuse. Needless to say, drinking is one of those things that can’t be as openly celebrated as much as we’d like because of the growing issues surrounding the activity that only seem to get worse.
But if you think us Americans are all about the alcohol, take a glimpse across the world to Denmark, where the film takes place. Drinking is so engrained into the culture as a tool for socialization that even the most seasoned drinkers might be taken aback. This is due in huge part to Denmark’s age of consumption. While the US’s age of consumption is 21, Denmark’s is…well, there isn’t one. While the Danes have enforced laws that keeps anyone from buying or being served alcohol before their 18, its not illegal for anyone to be caught drinking. Don’t get me wrong, the laws don’t stop rowdy teenagers from indulging in the spirits in the US, but the culture surrounding teenage drinking couldn’t be more different. Look no further than the film’s opening scene; a group of teenagers competing in what is referred to as a Lake Race. Groups of teens dash around a lake while carrying a case of beer, stopping at designated locations to chug one. By the time they reach the finish line, the group will have consumed the entire case and most likely have thrown up at least once. If this film were to be set in America, a scene like this would be shown to illustrate the destructive effects of teen drinking, but here it’s a celebration. The intoxicated teens eventually make their way to the trains, where their drunken dances are admired by their elders, who are no doubt reminiscing of their own days of youthful exuberance.
Drinking is so linked to youth in the film, as we come to realize with our four protagonists. They long for that feeling of invincibility, the confidence in their mind and bodies. Where we meet them initially, they’ve grown increasingly disassociated with their work and their personal lives. Martin, played by the incomparable Mads Mikkelsen, is a history teacher that has lost all passion in his teaching. In his hay-day, he practiced jazz ballet and went canoeing, but now he feels he has lost that youthful exuberance that won over his wife, whom he also remains emotionally distant from. It’s not until he attends a birthday dinner with his aforementioned coworkers that he realizes just how much has changed for him. Fearing he is about to lose the love of his life, he desperately seeks a way to capture the energy he once had. Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), a psychology teacher, introduces the group to Skårderud’s theory, and because each of the teachers are experiencing a similar rut, the group of four embark on their journey to get sloshed…for science!
This is where the film begins to illustrate its first motive: the celebration of drinking. The quartet’s first night experimentation involves dancing and roughhousing in a park, falling over one another and belly laughing for what feels like the first time in forever. Gone are the self-applied shackles of age and maturity, as these middle age men revert back to the carefree and debacherous days of their youth. Scenes like this, which are fairly plentiful here, made me nostalgic for my own past despite the fact I’m only about half these guys’ age. Memories of being out too late, being loud with my friends and inadvertently disturbing the peace came flooding back, remembering a time where things like careers or relationships were for future me to deal with. The performances in this film are honest and grounded, never needing to lampoon or become a caricature. We all chase the days where our cares and worries seemed minuscule in the moments of euphoric happiness, and our leads perfectly capture this.
Of course, when the sun comes up and we’re thrust back into that world of adulthood, we can’t help but to continue longing for more. This strikes our protagonists, who now put their theory to the test. They begin drinking on the job, just enough to get their BAC to .05%, and almost immediately begin to see positive results. Martin has earned the trust and attention of his students, leading them in energetic and engaging discussions. Peter, a music teacher, is able to pull moving vocals out of his student choir. Tommy, a gym coach, militantly leads a youth soccer team to a win while also forming a protective relationship with a shy boy on the team. Success in their work life also begins to spill into their home life, with Martin and his wife beginning to connect for the first time it what feels like years. This gets our leads thinking: If this is what the world is like at just .05% , why not go higher? This is where the film’s message begins to pivot into its second motive: the dangers of drinking.
When director Thomas Vinterberg first began work on Another Round, the film was almost completely centered on the celebration of drinking culture. It wasn’t until the tragic loss of his daughter, who was also going to act in the film, did the film’s message began to go through a metamorphosis. The idea of a film about drinking didn’t sit right with Vinterberg, who almost abandoned the project entirely. Upon reflection, he concluded the film must be about the celebration of life, which most of us don’t really begin to understand until we lose someone or something close to us. Likewise, the film begins to show us what happens when we lose sight of that celebration.
The teachers begin to up their alcohol intake in an attempt to see just how high of a high they can chase while under the influence. Before this, Martin takes a canoeing trip with his wife and two sons. The love he exudes for his family, and in turn his own life, is prevalent. He makes love to his wife for what has to be the first time in a very long time, which brings both of them to tears. Martin’s confidence is at an all time high, connecting with his loved ones like he never has before. And what is his BAC during the trip?
As much as everyone wants to believe that alcohol can make you a more lively and passionate person, Martin proves that this fire has been inside all along. While drinking may have brought it out, he knows that he must make an effort and fight for what he wants if he’s going to remain happy. This realization almost makes him back out of the experiment entirely, but he gets roped back as his friends begin to up their alcohol intake. I have two theories for this. The first is that he’s experiencing good old FOMO as he watches his pals make sazeracs and get goofy. The second is that a gnawing fear in the back of his head is beginning to claw its way through. He fears that his renewed relationship with his wife is only because of the alcohol, and stopping now will only sabotage his success now.
From here we begin to see the gang’s outings change in aura. While their escapades before were goofy, lighthearted and controlled, they are now sloppy, disheveled and almost completely incapable of motor functions. Sure, they’re still having a good time and we as viewers still get a good chuckle from it, but anyone who’s been around drinking before knows when a good thing is about to get bad. The transition to seeing drinking in a negative light like this feels expected, yet surprising. With how much the Danes love their drinking, Vinterberg offers some much needed reflection on the culture surrounding it. Acknowledging the existence of our own vices, Vinterberg analyzes our reasoning for these habits and the health risks that come from overindulgence. While it isn’t exactly a societal breakthrough, its a bold act to show both sides of drinking without entirely ignoring the opposition.
With our protagonists’ lives starting to come undone due to their experiment, we begin to see that after effects that target those around them. Relationships are severed, jobs are compromised, and eventually, tragedy befalls the group. What happens from there is reflection on what they’ve done, including all the fun and irresponsibility that comes with it. Was it worth it? In the end it’s hard to say, as maybe these men needed to feel the highest highs just to crash down to the lowest lows in order to get a good look at their lives. With their relationships forever changed, the group now holds a new understanding of themselves and the practice of drinking in their lives.
Then there’s the ending. Without spoiling it, all I can say is it’s one of the most beautifully uplifting and somber moments I’ve seen in recent memory. Celebratory in the wake of tragedy. Letting everything loose in one demonstration of immediate happiness and pent up emotion. Surrounded by contemporaries and peers young and old, soundtracked by a song written for another generation. I never thought something so simple could have such a powerful effect on me, but it only speaks the masterful work from the director and actors. It’s a scene I’ll continue to play over and over in my head, returning to it at my highest highs and lowest lows to remember where I am and where I want to be.
I loved everything about this film, from its simplistic but poignant style to its realistically emotional performances. While it doesn’t directly speak on my drinking culture, its a fascinating looking into how another side of the world handles such a polarizing subject matter. It’s made me reflect on my own relationship with drinking, something I’ve built a brand on and continues to be a pivotal player in my personal life. I implore you to experience this film no matter what your relationship with drinking is. There’s something to take away for everybody, and if you’re anything like me, I hope we can cheers in celebration over one of the absolute best films of 2020/2021.
For a film about drinking, there’s actually very little reliance on cocktails, as our characters opt to let beer, wine and straight liquor get the job done. However, they do call upon an absolute classic to help get that blood alcohol level rising.
The Sazerac has been around for a very long time, with many believing it to be the oldest known American cocktail. Originated in New Orleans and named after a brand of cognac, our protagonists claim the drink was created to give the appearance of a water downed cocktail. Ironically enough, our band of drunken dads actually don’t make the Sazerac, as it is traditionally made with either cognac or rye whiskey instead of bourbon. What this drink closely resembles is Zazarac, a spin on the Sazerac created in 1910 which includes bourbon over rye. But, to stay authentic to its appearance in the film we are going to stick with our character’s recipe. This is a very spirit forward cocktail and will most likely be enjoyed by those who don’t mind a little bit of bite to their drink.
- 6 dashes Peychaud bitters
- 1 sugar cube
- Splash of water
- 2oz bourbon
- Dash of absinthe
- Garnish: Orange peel
- In a chilled rocks glass, add a dash of absinthe and rotate it around the glass to coat the sides.
- In a mixing glass, add the bitters, sugar cube and dash of water. Muddle the sugar cubes until they are dissolved.
- Add bourbon and ice, then gently stir to chill.
- Add single large ice cube to the prepared glass, then strain the drink into it.
- Rub the rim of the glass with the orange peel, then garnish the drink with it.