Spoiler alert, spoiler alert, spoiler alert.
Already some months ago I watched the Danish movie “Druk” or “Another Round” in English. I was asked by a Slovak journalist to comment on the movie and got pre-release access. And then I discussed with a few journalists about my analysis. And I want to share my thoughts here, too.
And the winner is
Movie critics have celebrated ‘Another Round’ throughout 2020. It won several prizes for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor at the BFI London Film Festival, the European Film Awards, and at San Sebastian International Festival. At the Oscars on April 24, 2021, it won one award in the category best foreign movie.
I am not a film critic, either professionally or as a laywoman. For me, there are two reasons why I watch movies: I seek some entertainment or some new knowledge. Preferably both at the same time. So, in this text, I am not going to share any opinion about the craft of movie making. Nor am I having an opinion about the acting skills of the main characters.
But I am going to share my views about the reception of ‘Another Round’ by movie critics. Their evaluations could be summarised in one sentence: “Halleluja, finally a good movie that does not moralize about alcohol”.
The story line
First, let me take you quickly through the movie. It takes place in Copenhagen. Four teachers, who are in their 40s and work at a secondary high school/ grammar school, are the main characters. It is obvious that they are not excited about their lives. They are unable to motivate their students. Their family relations are in turmoil. One is divorced, the other one lives in a silent household, another one has small kids and lacks sleep. Their dreams are hanging on hooks and do not seem to be picked up ever again. One word that would best describe their lives is “dull”.
The picture of their tedious lives is put into contrast with their students’ occasional alcohol orgies. These movie alcohol orgies are based on stories of real life experiences of today’s young people (pre-COVID): Class competitions in gulping down liters of beer till they vomit; raids to the city in intoxicated state, harassing other people – and all is presented mostly as fun.
The director of the movie was inspired by the first hand experience of his own daughter who shared stories from her student life.
Celebration of alcohol
The movie is supposed to be “a celebration of alcohol based on the thesis that world history would have been different without alcohol”. This concrete notion is depicted clearly during one of the history classes. The main protagonist Martin, history teacher, presents some of the world’s most well-known political leaders and their alcohol habits. Churchill for example was a heavy alcohol user while Hitler was not consuming alcohol.
When the students heard only descriptions of these men’s personas without knowing their names, for instance how they had treated women and booze, they would have favored the man who actually attempted to eradicate a whole ethnicity and plunged the world into war. Martin’s conclusion of that history lesson was that the world is never the way you would expect it to be or in my interpretation of Martin’s attempt: Just because someone is not consuming alcohol does not mean they will automatically save the world or just because someone uses loads of alcohol and is a chauvinist does not mean they will ruin the world.
The main plot of the movie is that those four friends – who are all teachers – decide to undergo an alcohol pseudo-experiment based on the “philosophy” of Finn Skårderud. He had contemplated we all were born with a lack of alcohol in our blood and that if we would fill it up and keep our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) on a constant 0.05 level, we would be more creative and relaxed.
The four friends start the experiment which practically means they consume alcohol all day long, from the morning until 8.00 pm, frequently measuring their BAC to keep it constantly on the level of 0.05. And something wonderful starts happening. They (re)discover joy. They are better teachers who finally can connect with their students. Their lessons are engaging. Their family relations improve. They start living again.
Everything is going well. Everything. Alcohol is clearly portrayed as a magic potion.
As it is going so well, they decide to experiment even more: They increase their alcohol intake to see at what level of blood alcohol concentration the experienced “benefits” would diminish.
Even this is going great – until it does not. One afternoon that turns into evening and night they binge so much that they cause some material damage in a supermarket. They are sloshed in public in the middle of the. And some of them do not even make it home that night, Martin wakes up on the street, lightly injured, his kid puzzled after witnessing the whole situation. So, they decide to quit the experiment.
Back to “normal”
After the experiment, their life is getting normal again. There is one exception however. One of the friends has a serious alcohol use problem that in the end leads to his death. It happens towards the end of the movie, when the other three friends still carry the consequences of the “wild night out” and the negative impact on their family relations.
Cheers to life
At this moment, the school year is over, the friend’s funeral brings the other three together and they decide to cheer and to consume more alcohol in the name of their passed friend who “would have wished for them to raise their glasses”.
After a round or two in one restaurant, they move to another one to eat the favorite food of their late friend and celebrate him. They start talking about their lives, the ice is broken, they are feeling better and experience some hope.
At that point, their students, who have just graduated, are passing by the restaurant dancing and celebrating on a truck – a traditional way of hailing students’ graduation in Denmark. The truck usually drives through the city so other people can see the happy young people whose future has just started. It’s the same in the movie. The truck stops at the restaurant, so the teachers join the celebration. At this point they have already had loads of booze since the funeral. Now the students offer the teachers more alcohol of all kinds. They are all happy, together and free. They dance and laugh, all holding their alcohol containers (cans, bottles).
In the last scene, Martin, with a beer can in his hands, performs a jazz dance that he was teased for in the beginning of the movie. Back then the other three men laughed when they understood that he used to jazz dance and they had wanted him to show some steps, but he, back then not inebriated, had not felt comfortable and refused. Now, in the last scene of the movie, with alcohol in his hands (and his blood), he is freely dancing his heart out.
With a picture of a frozen moment when Martin joyously jumps in the air, the movie ends and the viewer hears the cheerful song “What a Life”.
…what a beautiful beautiful ride … it’s okay that we are living this way.”What A Life (From the Motion Picture “Another Round”), Scarlet Pleasure
Glamorisation of alcohol throughout the movie
Let me share some more observations from the movie.
Martin does not consume alcohol in the beginning of the movie. He actively refuses it (we do not know why, but some claim it is because he drives a car). His sobriety is an integral part of that depicted “dullness”. Empty life with a glass of water.
Another strong moment we see in the movie is a scene where one of the teachers offers alcohol to a student who fears the exams. First, the teachers just suggests for the student to use alcohol and then during the exam he actually gives him alcohol – vodka in a plastic bottle that looks like a water bottle. The student accepts it, drinks it, gets relaxed immediately and passes the exam.
Alcohol is clearly portrayed as a magic potion. Again and again.
The pervasive alcohol norm
So, what do the film critics say?
I’ve chosen a few quotes that represent common reactions:
“A wonderful impartial movie”. “Finally, a movie that does not moralize about alcohol”. “Great balance in showing both sides of alcohol”. “This movie is not about alcohol but about a life of men in their 40s and their crisis and learning to accept life”
“It was time for a movie of this kind that does not depict alcohol use in bad light”.
So, if I take it one by one. I am wondering which recent big production movie has moralized about alcohol? The movies about alcohol I recollect are Hangover 1,2,3; Bad moms 1, 2 and then there’s a torrent of movies that are not specifically about alcohol but alcohol in them is glamorized over and over again.
To me, such superficial thinking just reflects the strong alcohol norm in our societies where the only acceptable depiction of alcohol is as magic potion to enhance all aspects of life.”Kristina Sperkova
Then I am trying to think about movies that moralize about alcohol and I can’t think of any actually. There are some stories about recovery from alcohol addiction, about losses due to alcohol addiction or driving under influence of alcohol but they are not moralizing – they are describing human suffering and depicting human struggle and society’s ignorance as they continue to normalize and glamorize alcohol. So, I am asking, is it moralizing if the conclusion is that alcohol kills or makes someone’s lives miserable?
I am getting really concerned if movie critics really believe that the movies about alcohol that have been made recently are moralizing. To me, such superficial thinking just reflects the strong alcohol norm we have in our societies where depicting a problem is seen as moralizing and where the only acceptable depiction of alcohol is as magic potion to enhance all aspects of life. No wonder that alcohol use disorders are stigmatized then.
In one of the debates about the “Druk” movie that I watched, there was a psychiatrist who said, that the movie actually shows a very unrealistic picture because people who consume as much alcohol as the main characters in the film did, usually do not have those positive experiences of better results in anything they do but the other way around. They struggle. But the film critics overlooked this fact. They were actually not critically thinking about the movie at all.
Fake solution to 40-years life crisis
I agree with some critics’ conclusion that this movie is about life of white men in Danish society, who are going through a midlife crisis and need to find ways how to live and how to go on in their lives.
I think this movie shows, that men of this age are the generation that did not learn how to express feelings, how to enjoy life, how to stand for something that brings them happiness but is perceived as outside of traditional masculinity (like the jazz dance). These men have not learnt how to communicate when they have a problem, how to make peace with their decisions regarding family and children.
The alcohol norm is so strong that we do not even reflect the omnipresence of alcohol and how dependent we have made us on alcohol to experience things and cope with all kinds of situations.”Kristina Sperkova
But I do not see that these men have found their answers other than alcohol use. The movie shows that so well. Anytime they are in a tensed moment because they do not know how to express their emotions or talk about their problems, or just to talk to each other, they use alcohol and then it goes well.
Alcohol is the security blanket for grown men who have never grown up to develop certain skills and coping mechanisms.
The last scene of the movie, where Martin dances, is admired for the way the director managed to express the moment of accepting life as it is and still enjoy it. But I disagree. I do not see any acceptance there. I see momentary relief through using booze because under the influence of alcohol anything is allowed. Any “weird” behavior is excused, even jazz dance by a man in his 40s in a public space.
I think that the alcohol norm in our society is so strong, that we do not even reflect the omnipresence of alcohol and how dependent we have made us on alcohol to experience things and cope with all kinds of situations. If this movie was supposed to be about acceptance of life and its challenges and not about alcohol, Martin would have danced without the can of beer in his hands; without having to numb his emotions with ethanol.
The three friends who sit in grief around the table and deal with their loss, would not need alcohol if the point of the movie was to explore acceptance of human life and death as part of life and that their friend will never sit at the table together with them again.
If the movie truly would be about “accepting life as it is and still enjoy it” would the protagonists need alcohol to cope? No. Booze would have been an unnecessary or even counter-productive requisite.
This celebration of the so called objective portrayal of alcohol concerns me. The critics are so biased by the alcohol norm, that they do not see how the movie glamorises alcohol at every possible occasion. I think the movie has five, not four, main characters: the four teachers and booze.
A movie or an ad?
The film industry has a serious alcohol problem. Superstars are dying. People are suffering from addiction – and yet Hollywood keeps pushing the alcohol norm, these harmful alcohol myths, keeps perpetuating alcohol as a magic potion.”Kristina Sperkova
To me this movie feels much like an alcohol advertisment. It’s just a tad longer than usual Carlsberg ads Mikkelsen (the main actor) has done in the past. It’s one long commercial for Denmark’s (and the Western world’s) harmful alcohol norm.
Movie analysts claim that people do see the nuances in the movie and will not leave with a conclusion that alcohol is good for them. Those arguments do not convince me. I do not think that an average cinema visitor critically unfolds the layers of this piece – not even the critics have done that, obviously.
The average viewer subconsciously learns different strategies for copying with life. And this movie is very clear about the strategy it offers people to deal with life. Originally the director intended to celebrate alcohol after all. It is very simple and one directional – use alcohol, you will be more relaxed and solve any problems you have be it personal issues, family relations, professional challenges or expression of emotions.
The film industry and the entertainment business in general have a serious alcohol problem. People are dying. Superstars are dying. From alcohol harm. People are suffering from addiction – we read it in biographies, hear it in songs, see it in some movies, have more and more individuals come out as living in recovery; and yet Hollywood keeps pushing the alcohol norm, these harmful alcohol myths, keeps perpetuating alcohol as a magic potion, alcohol as security blanket and coping tool.