Under Thomas Vinterberg’s direction—also co-writing the screenplay with Tobias Lindholm—Mads Mikkelsen is another unhappy teacher struggling with midlife crises. Unlike The Hunt (Jagten) where the unhappiness roots from innocently vile, external threat, the roots of despair comes from within his character’s mind this time in Another Round. Once a prominent figure with charisma and sexual charm when the grapes are ripe, Mikkelsen’s character, Martin, becomes less of himself in his midlife period. Now he’s a mere shell of his former self; he’s soured himself to be a dull person through and through—an unattractive spouse, a passive father, a boring teacher, everything he can think of. This lead to the vaguest tragicomedy premise that this film offers: Martin dozes off his insecurity by resorting to drinking, not in a self-destructive manner, but rather with optimism.
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On a celebratory dinner with three other teachers—his colleagues in school and his best friends outside (Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe all in goofy, bittersweet top performances), the group finds an epiphany about drinking in the light of science and academic research. The foundation is Finn Skårderud’s theory that suggests human’s body lacks of 0.5 percent of alcohol in their blood. To make up for the shortage of blood alcohol level, one must drink at least a glass of wine a day or any kind of alcoholic drinks, but they shouldn’t get drunk. For as long as the level doesn’t exceed the additional 0.5 percent, the group believes that they will find their true selves—the creative, enthusiastic, courageous, and carefree self. So, the drinking begins and, in fact, the theory proves itself. Feeling confident to finally rediscover themselves, in no time, another round is coming after another round.
There’s almost something philosophical in what these teachers are experimenting. They even take it seriously by recording and documenting any results that might support their hypothesis. For some moments, their midlife crises turn upside down. Martin, most notably, has become a more caring person; the sense of sensibility has returned to him. He can see what’s been missing from him and he restructures his life in accordance to the imagery of his former self. Students, out of the blue, begins to pay attention. Who doesn’t? Their teacher trusts them to be alcohol independent by making examples of Hitler as a nasty teetotal. Another Round is highly adventurous at this point, contrasting the pleasure of drinking with impact in the teachers’ mundane life. When it, so far, does more good than harm, how can it go wrong?
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Take the responsibility from drinking for a while and you’ll forget where the brake is. Basically that’s what Another Round attempts to convey in exhilaration. It has been morally ambiguous from the first sip, but the plot exudes an undeniable irony once the teachers revel in the life of libation. Vinterberg and Lindholm’s narrative exclaims just how thin the line is between drinking responsibly and uncontrollably. The notion is almost like the eldest virtue in ancient tragicomedy—where the protagonists like Icarus or Midas will find some new power or revelation and then overuse it at some point without realizing it. Consequence awaits and, as in Vinterberg’s other movies, the bitterness of it sometimes utterly heartbreaking. For Martin, the major catalyst of his hypothesis and consequence is his wife, Anika (Marie Bonnevie). We never know what actually happened between them and the movie never intends to explicitly spit it out. What we know is she’s almost voluntarily taking night shifts at work as if she’s avoiding Martin. As the consequence hits Martin, we don’t get to see how things went down since there seems to be skipped reel or blackouts that signify just how long the protagonist has been drinking maniacally.
As the twilight of the teachers’ drinking odyssey comes, Another Round shows just how tragic the consequences are once the line is crossed. Yet, research isn’t conducted to always find an answer we are looking for, right? Regrets loom over the dusk of the journey, but the narrative never clearly states what regrets it would be. Is it the regret for having to stop drinking and eventually return to the mundane life? Or is it the regret for having to cross the line in binge-drinking? What is real is the eventual satisfaction to finally discover who they are meant to be as seen in Martin’s last dance scene. With Mikkelsen carries the abundant of last-resort energy for a finale that lingers longer after the credit ends, it’s hard to dismiss the kind of allure the actor possesses. His whole performance tends to be melancholic, but there’s tenderness in what he’s done and there’s an excruciating longing in the way he gazes. At this point of cinematic history, only Mikkelsen has that kind of gaze to deliver the bittersweet charm without ever trying.