If you find yourself needing to latch onto an obscure scientific theory to reinvigorate your energy level and live your life as more than a sleepwalking zombie, you’re probably not ready to actually confront the real problem. We know this to be true of the quartet at the center of Thomas Vinterberg’s effective, cathartic drama Druk (known in English as Another Round), since our first impression of Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), and especially Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is that they have lost their spark. Sexually, intellectually, physically, emotionally—whatever spark you can describe in words, they’ve lost it. Call it a mid-life crisis if you want. Call it evidence for needing a therapist like it is. Or, as they decide, retrieve that long-lost courage at the bottom of a bottle.
Don’t go calling them alcoholics, though (at least not yet). The reasoning Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm gives them is far more imaginative than that thanks to a much-needed dinner for Nikolaj’s fortieth birthday. It’s here at a table full of extremely expensive caviar and vodka (these are four high school teachers, mind you) that the uncertainty and emptiness Martin has been feeling comes to a head. He’s desperate to talk to someone, but can’t muster the will to let it be his wife (Maria Bonnevie’s Anika) despite a series of starts and stops that leave him silent—a pattern when placed beside his quiet disinterest towards a student/parent intervention questioning his ability to prepare his history class for exams. So he breaks down amongst his friends/co-workers instead.
That’s when philosophy teacher Nikolaj recalls the aforementioned theory from Norwegian Finn Skårderud. He posits that humans aren’t born with enough alcohol in their blood. If we can therefore retain a .05% BAC, we’d find ourselves more engaged, confident, and prepared to take on whatever the world threw at us. Nikolaj mostly explains this as a lark to get Martin to stop worrying about driving home and have a drink with them. In a Danish city that watches its youth engage in a contest where they must run around to designated checkpoints and systematically drink a case of beer along the way, alcohol in the blood is a cultural necessity already. Martin is at the end of his rope, though. Why not try it and see what happens?
Where one goes, all follow. His one-day success story leads the foursome to Nikolaj’s computer so they can begin setting down rules for documenting a collective attempt at putting the idea into practice. With Hemingway’s creed of drinking from breakfast until 8:00pm on weekdays and staying sober on weekends at their backs, they fill their coffee thermoses and water bottles with an alcoholic drink of corresponding color and enter the school like they own it for the first time in years. Martin channels Robin Williams from Dead Poets’ Society. Tommy finds the words to inspire his least athletic soccer player. And Peter turns a chorus of indifferent teens into a troupe ready for Carnegie Hall. So of course they decide the next logical step is increasing the dosage.
You can guess where things progress from here, but know that Vinterberg’s goal isn’t to derail the merits of this experiment by wallowing in its inevitable risks. Another Round is a celebration of alcohol regardless of the nuance and drama that must be included once things spiral out of control. Whether Hemingway, Winston Churchill, or Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, imbibing the drug in (relative) moderation has proven a tool for achieving greatness. So why shouldn’t we do the same? Why shouldn’t we reject taboo and let it augment our moods to seize the day? We all get anxious. We all become consumed by doubt. If a glass of wine or shot of scotch takes the edge off, isn’t that a good thing?
While the answer is affirmative, however, it does come with caveats. The main warning is that alcohol should remain a tool and never end up becoming a solution. That’s when things turn south. That’s when you find yourself too uninhibited to realize the next drink is the one that endangers your life and that of those around you. It’s more than that too, though. It can also become a crutch—a replacement for your identity rather than an enhancement. Martin may reacquire his vitality in school and with his family, but in so doing he also exposes his shortcomings and the reality that it may be both too late and too obvious. The latter reveals how being drunk can’t last. The former reveals how it still wasn’t enough.
It’s worth it if it wakes him up, though. By giving those around him a glimpse of who he once was, they (and he) can finally come to grips with the fact that he hasn’t been that person in a very, very long time. Some difficult truths arrive for them all as they take stock in what they have and what they need to do to stop from squandering it. That kick in the pants is everything. It might not be enough for some and it might not be enough to overcome the allure of simply drinking more, but it will at least lead them towards recognizing that change is necessary. Careers, kids, and responsibilities don’t have to come at the cost of who you are.
Some will choose to make that change and some won’t. Some will show a little goes a long way (just ask Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt’s Sebastian and the debilitating stress that wipes his mind of everything he’s learned during crunch time), and others that a lot still isn’t enough. So expect some rough emotional moments after the shine of those entertaining early days wears off. Mikkelsen is at the forefront of them thanks to a newfound clarity in his relationship with Anika and his friends, but the rest of the cast is right beside him where authenticity and complexity are concerned. In the end, his Martin learns he doesn’t need alcohol to trick his body into being young again. He merely has to want it—jazz ballet and all.
Another Round screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.