Another Round

Another Round ★★★★

If you loved Mads Mikkelson before, this film will reaffirm why he is such an extraordinary talent. The way he is able to embody the complexity of a man at his lowest point, caught in the mundantity and passionless rut of routine and midlife crisis, is quite profound and mesmerizing. His gradual transformation is far from linear, emerging ever so slowly from the shared stories of the fellow teachers and friends that surround him as a definable and recognizable arc that is able to give the larger narrative a sense of focus. This isn't a film interested in creating black and white pictures or clear redemptive angles. This is a complex narrative written around an intriguing (and true) premise that unfolds in ways that often feel as uncertain as the film's theoretical interest.

In terms of the theory, the film follows this group of teachers as they become captivated by a potential psychological study that submits that the human body needs to operate at a certain blood alcohol level, and by conditioning ourselves to maintain that level through constant drinking (in measured amounts) throughout the day, we can change our lives and increase things like confidence levels, relatability, happiness, and even productivity. Given that all of these men are living with low levels of all of these things, a mere suggestion turns into a spontaneous decision to put this potential psychological experiment into practice.

What gives this film it's complexity is the way it uses this simple decision to gain concrete evidence from their willing participation in their exercise, something that puts their jobs (for drinking during the day), their families, and their responsibilities (they can't drive) at risk, to explore this tricky ambiguity that exists between positive and negative results. What becomes clear as the exercise continues is that there is equal tension that exists within their motivation for doing this experiment and their unbiased, willing participation. These are men who want to drink away their problems, and who's problems motivate them towards the drink. And when they feel the burden lifted it naturally leads them to want to find a way to continue the experiment. And so they come up with more questions to explore.

The real problem is not just the potential long term self destruction of their bodies, a byproduct of the newfound happiness and confidence and productivity in the present, but that their efforts to obtain these things through drink is at its heart a self indulgent exercise. It does not actually bring them closer to the people in their lives, which Mads' character expresses in the vulnerability of his new found perpetual drunkennes to be the real source of his problem- feeling alone. And ultimately, the line between this feeling of liberation and the definition of substance abuse because inevitably blurred.

I found this film to be so interesting as an exploration of substance use and its offshoot, substance abuse, if because substance use in many forms has always been a part of human existence. This would be as true for alcohol as it would be for harder and more commonly accepted harder and thus damaging substances and drugs and something that is more culturally acceptable like cannabis. They all exist within this same conversation, navigating between positive outcomes and helpful byproducts and potential negative ooutcomes and damaging byproducts. It's is fascinating to me to consider, in particular, how with the massive studies we do have on the long term negative outcomes of alcohol, let alone the immediate, that it remains so culturally acceptable. Distinguished even. Is this willfull ignorance, a result of nihlistic views, hidden or aware, of life and this world, or something other? Similarly with cannabis, a drug that in its gradual legalization is seen on par with alcohol, even if alcohol remains the drug of preference. What continues to be entirely absent from this discussion is the internal motivations, the why questions. Where the line gets drawn between willfull recreational use enhancing ones feelings of happiness and confidence and the fabricating of a false sense of self is not an easy question to answer. But in some ways it feels like a pretty important question to answer. So much of what these men's lives are without the drug of choice is necessarily compared to what the drug allows them to be. The real question then is, is this confident, seemingly happy version that the drunkenness enables their true self, or a falsehood? What makes this that much more problematic is that they seem unable, and at points unwilling to want to stop using the alcohol because of their disatisfaction with who they were before, which is really where pandoras box gets opened in this whole exercise.

This one definitely caught me off guard, not because I wasn't expecting something good, but because I wasn't expecting the premise to be as compelling as it was. Definitely one of the great performances of the year, and one of my favorite films. I'll be thinking about it for a long while.

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