Mirroring alcohol's complex images

Dominic Conroy watches Another Round, directed by Thomas Vinterburg.

Alcohol is ubiquitous in cinemas generally (think ‘shaken not stirred’ as a starting point) and sometimes an indirect focus of films – e.g. The Hangover films, suicidal alcoholism dealt with in Leaving Las Vegas and Alexander Payne’s acclaimed road trip Sideways. Alcohol reflecting life’s tragedies, and alcohol reflecting the clear comedies of life: just what is the breadth of framing for alcohol to have within cinema? Enter Another Round (the Danish title, Druk, meaning “binge drinking”, is far superior), a comedy-drama directed by Thomas Vinterberg whose The Hunt (2012) impressed with its considered depiction of family and moral hysteria.

The film hinges around four middle aged male university teaching colleagues who decide to put into practice the hypothesis of Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who has argued that having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05% is conducive to feeling more relaxed and creative. While we might clearly argue about details and qualifiers for such a theory, a perspective arguing for possible evolutionary advantages of not irregular alcohol intoxication feels refreshing (hits the parts other theories do not etc). But the theory serves as the film’s central spine: seeing whether having a tipple at work helps these jaded teachers teach and whether an intoxicated teacher inspires learning among the students. Clearly such a plan comes with clear risks to working life and these unfold over the course of the film, as does a changing relationship with the teachers’ personal and collective relationship with alcohol. 

The psychology of alcohol consumption is dealt with in an intelligent, thoughtful way in many scenes. As someone who has explored how social sobriety/alcohol abstinence is experienced and dealt with rhetorically, I particularly enjoyed an early scene where Martin attends a social event as a non-drinker and endures an onslaught of seductive, distracting language designed to tempt customers to try an establishment’s sparkling wines and “velvety vodkas”.

The film’s somewhat mixed message about alcohol might be no bad thing in itself, and I think this was partly the director’s intention. Another Round casts alcohol as a source of friendship and vitality for Martin and his friends, each of whom is facing demanding moments in life. However, alcohol is also presented as something that destroys family relationships, something that leads to injury and argument, and that carries stigma in certain contexts (e.g. when linked to the workplace). And this mirrors alcohol’s complex cultural images: as something flippant and light-hearted; as a destructive, addictive behaviour; and as something which, partly by virtue of its diverse psychopharmacological mechanisms of action, has unpredictable and inconsistent effects. The film succeeded most when it captured the swings between alcohol’s dizzy highs and its desolate lows. But these contradictory visions of alcohol’s effects in everyday life felt, at times, like too much dalliance, particularly in the closing alcohol-fuelled celebratory scene which clashed against more serious images conveyed in earlier film parts. 

My lasting thought on this film was: what should a film with alcohol towards its centre of gravity look like? Where might the moral boundaries be best placed in such a film? Are artists bound to present alcohol’s addictive properties? How well placed is cinema to articulate tensions and possibly hypocrisies involved in thinking about, researching and creatively documenting alcohol’s place in human life. There are no easy answers to these questions but Another Round feels a step closer towards producing a more satisfactory route forward. 

Dominic ConroyPhD, SFHEA
Senior lecturer, School of Social Sciences - Psychology, London Metropolitan University

Another Round is in cinemas now. Find much more about alcohol in our archive.

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