Exit Poll is a series exploring the good, bad, and outright deranged films our editors are attending. This week: Digital Editor Sarah Nechamkin raises her glass to Another Round, now streaming on digital platforms.
The experience of watching Another Round, the new film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, is much like taking a long swig of a stiff drink. You know it can’t end well, but you doggedly keep going, continuing to revel in its glow. It’s the magic of Vinterberg’s direction—and the subtle star power of its lead, Mads Mikkelsen, as a depressive history teacher named Martin—that a film about a bunch of drunken middle-aged men arrives at some sobering truths, though not without the beautiful haze of inebriation. The premise is simple: a group of jaded employees at a Copenhagen high school discover the work of Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who theorized that humans are born with a blood alcohol content that’s 0.05 percent too low. Naturally, he argues, maintaining a constant level of 0.05 BAC results in “increased social and professional performance.” They put it to the test, hiding flasks in janitors’ closets and filling thermoses with Smirnoff in the morning. (Why they immediately go for cheap vodka is never explained, but the Danes have a reputation for being a bit masochistic.) Unlike their rowdy students, they don’t drink past 8pm or on weekends; instead, they let the liquor flow through routine meetings, stale history lessons, and youth soccer games.
And so we watch as the men find ecstasy in the ordinary, forging new connections with their students, wives, each other, and themselves. The sun hits in all the right ways; the not-totally-steady camera lingers on Martin’s zen-like expression as he runs his hands through his hair in the shower. Before Another Round—Druk in Danish, a more apt title suggestive of the visceral nature of binge-drinking—charts the terrors of excess, it bathes in its drunken splendor, painting a portrait of addiction that’s more empathetic than finger-wagging. It’s a healthy counterpart to Hollywood’s love affair with the tortured alcoholic, and the hundreds of cautionary tales in which we see drinking enable and threaten his (or her) ambition. Here, the viewer is not privy to glittery drunken one-night-stands and tirades through trashed hotel rooms, but rather, a run-of-the-mill mid-life-crisis masquerading as thought experiment. As we watch our earnest protagonists drink, pour, drink, pour, and drink again, each quickly surpassing the agreed-upon daily BAC limit, we see, in real time, the insipid ways in which inebriation can lure a person into its steady grip. It’s at once beautiful and tragic, both Shakespearean tragedy and divine comedy—all the more so during a global pandemic that has seen a spike in alcohol consumption. As we find ever-more-clever ways to occupy our long days at home, Another Round offers an intoxicating look at the void that’s left once the bottle is empty. Cheers.