Here’s a really great premise for a dark comedy: four bored High school teachers decide to repeat a goofy sounding science experiment that says that the average human BAC level 0.05% too low to function in daily life. To fix this, they start day drinking during school to maintain a consistent buzz during the day.
What follows is exactly what you would imagine would happen. It works for a time, they start pushing their experiment, they start becoming dependent on alcohol and quickly the alcohol starts to ruin their lives.
It’s a great premise for exploring the nature of alcoholism and it just so happens to be the premise of the recent Danish film Another Round, which won Best International Film this year at the Oscars.
Let’s start by being frank: alcoholism is a serious disease. There have been plenty of great films that explored the topic like Withnail and I, The Way Back, Flight, Colossal and The World’s End. Even South Park and The Simpsons have explored the topic.
The one thing they all seem to share in their portrayal of the disease is the haunting nature of the thing. Alcoholism just seems to be this haunting spectre of habit that draws people deeper and deeper into itself until the person realizes they have a problem. Usually it’s coping mechanism.
That’s something that Another Round portrays effectively but it’s also quite nuanced about its portrayal. The film starts with a scene of college students playing a drinking game involving a relay race and beers. It’s portrayed somewhat innocently, with the joy and revelry of these students causing chaos but never fully crossing the line into something serious.
It then cuts to its adult characters: bored, frustrated, ineffectual and staring down serious issues like marital infidelity and work performance. After a night of heavy drinking brings out some of that lost college joy and levity, the group brings up the ridiculous sounding study mentioned above.
Clearly, these four men just want an excuse to drink and bond over their drinking. The idea that human’s NEED alcohol to function properly is nonsense. Mads Mikkelson’s character in particular shows that as his drinking habit starts leaking into his history classes. He repeatedly does lessons defending great alcoholics in history from Winston Churchill to General Grant.
Eventually the group decides to back out of the experiment but the effects it’s had on them are clearly inconsistent. Some mostly abstain from drinking, one relapses a few times quietly but one is totally consumed by alcoholism and his life is destroyed.
The film doesn’t downplay the darker implications of this. It doesn’t refrain from exploring despair, death and divorce as themes and consequences for their actions and it uses the four different characters to explore how people can handle alcohol after periods of dependence.
Still, the film isn’t just diving down the rabbit hole of Alcoholics Anonymous or the nature of addition. These men are smart enough to recognize the signs of alcoholism as it’s developing and most of them cut it off before it gets to bad.
If anything, the movie’s message is one about self awareness and coming to terms with when vice is tolerable. At one point, one of the teachers feeds a few drinks of vodka to a student melting down before giving his philosophy speech. It proves to be just enough to cool his nerves and help him get through his presentation successfully. The movie even ends with another montage of hard drink and celebration at the school’s graduation but here it’s entirely joyous. The men are drinking to make life better but not to make life tolerable.
At the end of the day, this becomes a story about characters and their willingness to face their inner demons. Alcohol, like anything else in life, is morally neutral. It can bring joy to joyful moments but it can also deepen despair. It’s up to us to live life responsibly.