Another Round opens with a quote by Søren Kierkegaard: “What is youth? / A dream / What is love? / The dream’s contents.” It’s a fitting prelude to Thomas Vinterberg’s exploration of aging male malaise. The story focuses on four friends in search of a shakeup to lift them out of their respective midlife valleys. The fact that these four teachers decide to seek change by drinking increasingly large quantities of alcohol shouldn’t deter viewers who don’t think that happiness should be sought in a bottle. Another Round has much more on its mind than drunken debauchery and its serious questions about meaning, love, and abandoned dreams agiley balance out the inebriated fun.
At the film’s center is Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a history teacher who has become bored of his own lessons and is therefore becoming an albatross to his baffled students and their concerned parents. Martin was once a nimble young creative, but he’s now paunchy and pensive, constantly wearing a look of blank bewilderment. When he asks his wife Anika (Marie Bonnevie) if he’s lost his spark, she can’t even give him a straight answer. It’s obvious that Martin needs a change if he’s going to regain any sense of excitement, and a strange seed of an idea begins to grow at a 40th birthday dinner for his philosophy teacher colleague Nikolaj (Magnus Millang).
While the drinks at dinner move from beer to harder liquor, Martin, Nikolaj, music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe), and sports coach Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) all lament their quickly fleeing youthfulness. Inspiration strikes when Nikolaj presents a theory by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud which states that human beings have a devastating blood alcohol deficit that must be countered by daily drinking in order to invigorate our arid existence. The quartet decide to test the theory’s hypothesis and observe the effects of regular boozing on their lives. Breathalyzer tools and bottles are purchased and the community-accountable, alcohol-drenched experimentation begins.
The idea is a quirky one to say the least, but Vinterberg’s well-paced plot and the sensitive performances make the unfolding of this experiment utterly believable. At first, things look up, very up. Martin’s body hums with newfound energy and it proceeds to affect all aspects of his life. His lessons land, his students rejoice, his family life and marriage enjoy astronomical lifts. Nikolaj, Peter, and Tommy also encounter inspiring experiences. So, naturally, all four of them want more and drink more, much more.
The oncoming wall can be seen a mile away, but Another Round doesn’t attempt to offer standard moralizing. No judgment is passed on these searching characters. This is not so much an indictment on alcohol abuse as it is an honest exploration of how far the desperate will go to revisit a bit of their lost youth in the face of increasing years, to touch a bit of euphoria in the shadow of the daily slog, to look forward to something mysterious popping up in the place of the mundane.
This is also not an advertisement for following in the footsteps of these seekers. It leaps and lands awkwardly and beautifully somewhere in between. It names the fear and sits squarely in the questions, never offering easy answers. In the end, what Another Round is trying to say feels far from the point. Its message is messy. Just like its main character’s gloriously jubilant and juvenile dance in the final scene, it’s a film that both entertains and invites its audience to approach the pain at its root with uncommon interest. It feels simultaneously alien and all-too-familiar, like the aging process itself, and much like the intoxicated experiment at its core, it’s an experience to be consumed like a fever dream and dissected in community conversation.