The thing about life is that it’s every day. And even the best days are 24 hours.
It’s just as easy to collapse into tedium as it is to spiral out of control. But these aren’t set points on a line. They’re shades in a prism. Now that we’re feeling properly existential, let’s talk about a very special Danish tragicomedy.
Another Round examines four educators who find themselves unfulfilled at the midpoint of their lives. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a history teacher who realizes his wife has grown bored with him, and he perhaps has even grown bored with himself.
This problem bleeds over into his career as his teenage students ambush Mikkelsen with a classwide parent-teacher conference because his lessons are meandering and lifeless. It’s reminiscent of the conclusion of “The Replacements” from noted problem drinker and barstool philosopher Charles Bukowski:
“… now our moderns
lecture at universities
in tie and suit,
the little boys soberly studious,
the little girls with glazed eyes
the lawns so green, the books so dull,
the life so dying of
Our protagonist’s three fellow teachers and close friends fare no better. The psychology teacher played by Magnus Millang finds his domestic life overrun with a seemingly multiplying number of small Nordic children. A dreary music teacher (Lars Ranthe) sits behind a piano, unable to elicit harmony from his youth choir. And the closest thing that the school’s gym coach (Thomas Bo Larsen) has to family are the sidelined players on his youth soccer team.
On a night out, the four men decide to test a theory proposed by a Norwegian psychiatrist. According to the hypothesis, humans are born with a deficit in blood alcohol concentration of 0.05. After a few (excuse the pun) hiccups, the four colleagues establish a system whereby they maintain a constant buzz during the day.
With breathalyzers and hidden fifths of liquor secured, their teaching is revitalized. The men are relaxed, creative, and invigorated. Their students become inspired.
In academic fashion, the four men carefully log and detail the myriad ways their lives have improved. But then they make the decision to go further. Allow their BACs to drift point by point beyond the 0.05 limit. And as these stories go, things begin to slip away from them.
But Another Round isn’t your usual morality play about the perils of drinking. The film is a deeper, more expansive look at the ways in which alcohol fits into our lives. The film never veers into a sermon, and it offers no judgement. Instead, it merely presents an honest look at drinking.
At one point, it costs a man his career. At another it eases a student’s nerves to allow him to ace his final exams.
Alcohol is presented as a tool for celebration and for mourning. It’s a substance with great utility. It offers an escape, but what it cannot do is erase your problems. And that is perhaps the film’s greatest takeaway.
As our four main characters descend further and further into debauchery, their experiment begins to overtake their domestic and professional lives. Finally, we see the personal problems that drove them to their grand study in the first place.
One man has realized too late that he’s lost his wife. One is overwhelmed by the burdens of parenthood. Another finds himself returning to an empty home each evening, while another just hopes to tap into the inspiration of all the great, yet damaged, artists he idolizes.
These problems were there before they started drinking each day, and for the most part they are still there after. Again, there is no proselytizing in this movie. Despite the academic setting, this is not an after-school special.
Instead Another Round is a look at the ways in which we cope. A reminder of the joys of simply getting drunk with your friends–a thing that we all probably miss. But the film is also a reminder of the morning after, when the daylight pierces your eyelids and you have to account for the night before.
The incredible thing is that the film manages to balance all the tragedy, melancholy, embarrassment, and joy that can come with a night out. It offers no damnation or absolution. It simply follows a group of men as they test a theory to its inevitable end. And while gathering knowledge is vital to any intellectual endeavor, what you take away from it is up to you.
“Students and learned men of every kind and every age go as a rule in search of information, not insight,” wrote German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. “They make it a point of honour to have information about everything: it does not occur to them that information is merely a means towards insight and possesses little or no value in itself.”