(2 Shots in)
Eschewing the grand tradition of most writers, a group who, on the whole, don’t tend to have their shit all the way together, I tend to write sober. Me and alcohol have an uneasy alliance, like the friend from high school you know is bad for you but whom you’d probably let sleep on your couch anyway, much to dismay of your wife. I enjoy a glass a whiskey, and generally keep a bottle or two around for occasional imbibing. But I’m not what you might call “a drinker.” (Please don’t ask Neil Ferguson about UtopiaFest.)
But today is different. As I’m writing these words, the warming sensation of the two shots of whiskey I pounded not 10 minutes ago is working its way through my body while a third shot sits comfortably by my side. Call it an act of creative boredom. Call it an excuse to day drink in the middle of a weekday. Call it what you will. But, for me, it makes sense.
I do this today in homage to the movie I’m reviewing, Another Round from director Thomas Vinterberg. The Swedish/Dutch production is an examination of the cultural relationship to alcohol and its effects on the individual and, yes, features just…fuckin…oceans of alcohol. It is, I can say with no hint of inebriated exaggeration, one of 2020’s best films.
Mads Mikle…Mads Mikellso…Mads Mikkelsen stars as Martin, an aging high school teacher who is growing increasingly bored of his life and increasingly distant from his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie). A fortuitous birthday dinner for his friend and colleague Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) sends Martin down a path of self-discovery from which he may not recover. In conversation, Martin and his friends discuss the work of a psychologist who opines that humans are born with a deficit of .05% alcohol in their blood, and that maintaining that BAC level can lead to optimum social and professional performance. Eager to break out of their mundane lives, Martin and his friends put that test to the hypothesis.
(3 shots in)
It’s an interesting premise. A BAC level of .05 for a male my height (tall) and size (fat) is about 3 shots of whiskey in 30 minutes, a goal I have hit in the last few minutes of writing. Maintaining that will take about one additional shot every 30-45 minutes which, strictly in the interest of science, is what I will be doing during the writing of this review (which typically takes between 90-120 minutes, depending on how distracted I become by life, family, and video games).
Already, I can see the problem with their plan. .05 doesn’t sound like much. But I work from home, writing in an office I share with my wife. I don’t have to teach high school kids for hours a day, unlike the characters in Another Round. As it stands, today, my wife finds my goal to get “absolutely blisteringly shit housed” by the end of this review a little funny, if not endearing. When asked how she would feel if I did this every day, she said, “I mean, it wouldn’t be so much ‘annoyed wife’ as it would I would be very concerned about you.”
And she would be right. Maintaining this BAC for a whole day, let alone the months covered by the narrative of Another Round, would be difficult as all fuck. Three shots of whiskey in an hour plus at least one additional shot for every hour after that is hard for all but the most seasoned alcoholics to maintain. And even the most seasoned alcoholics would soon succumb to the difficulties of this kind of vice maintenance. Speaking of which…
(4 shots In)
I’ve gotta say that maintaining this level of inebriation does seem to improve my professional confidence, just as it does for Martin and his friends. Like honestly, I’m only an hour into this experiment already I want to be doing anything else besides writing this review. I’ve got books to read. Movies to watch. Games to play. I couldn’t imagine keeping this up for any extended period of time. Even if I do feel (probably wrongly) that being this level of drunk is helping me.
It’s difficult to deny how open alcohol makes us feel, which certainly helps with self-confidence, especially when you’re trying to write. But it’s false, isn’t it? Objectively, I know I write better sober, but I can’t help but feel that my drunken lack of give a fuck is helping me. But that’s the whiskey talking. In reality, this review is probably a mess, and frankly I’m regretting its conceit.
Which is kind of the point of Another Round. Vinterberg has crafted an extraordinary examination of the cultural fascination with drinking and inebriation. When discussing the premise with my wife she asked “how did that work out for them?” Like I told her, it went great until exactly the point when it did not. Which is kind of problem with drinking, isn’t it? We can think all we want about how alcohol improves our ability to interact and be relaxed, but really inebriation doesn’t do much but fuck us up.
(five shots in)
The confidence gained from alcohol is a false confidence, one that doesn’t accurately reflect ourselves our or true abilities. Confident as I might feel about my writing right now (Hemmingway was a drunk fuck, and I think I get it now) I’m also acutely aware that this is far from my best work, even if I’m giggling so much that my wife finally left the room so she could work in peace.
Which is kind of a truncated parallel to the journey Martin takes in Another Round. Mikkelsen, one of our best living performers, does a fantastic job finding the pathos of Martin and making it sing on the screen. Martin is a character whose life has been on the brink of disaster for years, and it’s the burgeoning alcoholism of his character that pushes him over the edge.
Mikkelsen has long been one of the most intriguing performers working today, and is about 90% of the reason that the short lived Hannibal has the following it continues to have even 5 years after its cancellation. He is, to date, the second best Hannibal Lector of all time (with apologies to Brian Cox). And his skill at the portrayal of Martin is top notch. He’s long been an actor that’s intriguing to watch, and he brings all his power to Another Round.
Vinterberg, for his part, as both co-writer (alongside Tobias Lindhold, who also co-wrote Vinterberg’s and Mikkelsen’s last film The Hunt, also starring Mikkelsen) and director, has crafted a film that deftly alternates between hilarious and poignant. While their experiment seems harmless at first, our characters quickly discover the social and familial flaws in their plan (much as I’m discovering now…a lot quicker than they did, I might add). Another Round (it just took me five tries to spell “another,” my drunk fingers insisting upon “abother”) is a powerfully poignant look at how we, as humans, consume and relate to alcohol, without ever glamorizing its effects.
Personally speaking, I’ve gotta say that maintaining the .05 attempted by Martin and his friends would be exceedingly difficult. Were it not for autocorrect, this review would be read a lot worse than it does right now, with so many fucking typos that I would probably be expelled from the various societies of which I am member. No, maintaining a .05 BAC is not a good idea. For the last half hour, I’ve been consumed by a powerful need to lie down and sleep off the worse of this insidious drunkenness.
And yet, Vinterberg manages to pull the pathos and emotion from his simple conceit. What starts as a fun romp quickly becomes an emotional look at how easily we can all descend into alcoholism, a lesson I wish I had heeded a couple of hours back when I was sober. Now, it’s 4:30 pm and all I can think about is how much I want a nap, never mind that it’s my turn to make dinner.
My own ill-advised drunkenness aside, Another Round is a poignant, emotional mediation on our relationship to alcohol that’s as powerful and thought provoking as this type of narrative can get. With it’s brilliant script and performances, Another Round is one of the most intriguing and enjoyable films of 2020, and one that doesn’t shy away from the points it’s attempting to make. My ill-advised experiment aside, one which I do not recommend trying for yourself, Vinterberg has crafted another perfect Mikkelsen collaboration and another must see film.
Another Round is now playing in select theaters and is available on demand on December 18.