Ever find yourself wondering if consuming just the right amount of alcohol could improve your daily life? Hopefully not, but if you are just thinking about it, make sure you watch Thomas Vinterberg’s much-awarded film first, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Magnus Millang. Mischievous and witty, this drama-comedy is far from being another shabby story about irresponsible drinking. Oscillating between being thrilling and playful to silent and profound, Druk or Another Round has psychological undertones and raises heavy questions about escapism and the meaning of life. Its humor is subtle and charming and manages to blend well with moments of tragedy and philosophical meditation.
The storyline is devilishly delightful and will walk you through all types of emotions in a punch-drunk kind of way. At the heart of the story lie complex, realistic characters with an amazing on-screen chemistry. A glimpse into the monotonous and unfulfilling lives of four middle aged high-school teachers sets the tone for the sober moments of the film and encourages the audience to empathize with the characters. Meeting for a birthday supper with his friends, Martin has a mental breakdown over his personal and professional stagnation. This lays the groundwork for a casual talk about the nonconventional theory of a Norwegian psychoanalyst: people are born with a moderate alcohol deficiency in their blood, which makes them misbehave and function improperly. After a drink, people get back to their senses: they suddenly loosen up, become more sociable and their creativity and confidence increase. Maintaining an optimal blood alcohol level of 0.05% simply makes life easier, so why not try it?
The teachers decide to test this theory “for academic purposes”, initially abiding to a set of formal rules followed meticulously: alcohol intake and blood alcohol levels are being documented and intoxication is only allowed in the workplace. A little goes a long way – initially, the experiment proves successful in improving their social and professional life and increasing overall happiness (“I haven’t felt this good in ages!”). Soon enough, the optimal level of 0.05% will not only be reached but also maintained throughout the day and eventually exceeded. Their experiment spirals down into misfortune, leaving behind broken families, disappointment, ecstasy, and many hangovers.
The film is indulging and mischievous, perhaps reminding the audience of the sweet-and-sour taste of binge drinking. With the help of the superb cast, simple dialogue, and numerous close-ups, Vinterberg’s product is strikingly compelling as the audience actively engages with the film. Druk was directed in such a way that the viewer reacts progressively to the story plotline, making decisions for herself throughout the film as if she was part of the drinking experiment. Thrusted into reckless stages of highs and lows, the spectator seems to feel all the pressures and reliefs of drinking alongside the four characters rather than simply being a passive observer of their behaviours.
One of the reasons why the film is worth watching is that it provides insights into the Danish social psychology and culture. Vinterberg is not shying away from displaying the rudimental temptation to lose control and escape oneself. Alcohol, the central piece of the film, is portraited as a modern elixir with cathartic powers that must run through the Danish blood. My interpretation is that drinking is used as a means to destroy something within and heal miraculously – the intoxicating prospect of a better self. The beer mile in the beginning of the film, a drinking relay race combining running and drinking, is comparable to an unruly ritual that binds people together and aims to cleanse them from torment or mediocrity. Both the beer race and the pseudo-academic theory are pretexts for drinking excessively and conceal a lurking agony that comes from an inability to deal with one’s emotions or condition. Misery has to be killed for one’s survival, and the more violent and demeaning the effects of drinking are, the more effective the kill is. Of course, excessive drinking is pleasurable for some and does not necessarily have to be a self-destructive practice. Yet this film aims to send a message and the grotesque picture that Vinterberg has formed is indicative of a desire to tear down and reform one’s feelings and state of mind.
By the final scene, the movie reaches its climax through Mikkelsen’s unanticipated “funeral dance”, unleashing anarchic energies that suggest the same idea of escapism. The viewer is thrown under the spell of his purgative movement, provoking an uplifting feeling of serenity that prevails above tragedy. Once again, the absurdity of all shows how drinking is elevated to being the path to redemption and forgiveness. As Kermode explains, “Vinterberg paints a sardonic portrait of a society torn between well-mannered mediocrity and <<going completely bonkers>>”. Not many directors would succeed in attaching such seductive meanings to the destructive powers of alcohol. Vinterberg’s masterful creation combines comedy and drama in elegant and seemingly innocent ways, revealing the beauty and childishness of tragedy and chaos, with a boozy twist.