As human beings, our brains tend to categorize people, ideas and activities into a system of dichotomy: something/someone is simply either good or bad because our brains want to conserve energy by avoiding the cognitive exercise it would have to perform to truly determine exactly where something lies on the grey scale of morality. It is when we shun the ‘bad’ and become tenacious in avoiding any discourse to hear otherwise on the subject, that these ideas or activities become taboos. Society (at large) becomes complacent with the image they’ve built for these taboos and there is hardly any insightful discussion on the topic which is saddening for the sphere of cultural development because ‘without contraries, there can be no progress’.
Thomas Vinterberg is one filmmaker who realises this and invites the audience to look at one such taboo from a different perspective in his film Druk, titled Another Round in English. The taboo is alcohol and though it is not the biggest proverbial elephant in the room which needs to be talked about (especially in the Indian society), it is still a taboo for a huge demographic nonetheless.
In the film, four teachers are shown struggling to get and maintain the attention of their students in the age of instant gratification and rapidly declining attention spans. It is when the psychology professor casually mentions Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s notion that the human being is born with an alcohol level that is 0.05% too low that Martin, the History teacher, decides to put this idea to the test. And eventually, after noticing the significant improvement in the quality of Martin’s classes, the other teachers give in as well and indulge in what is arguably the most enjoyable experiment I’ve seen. The teachers exhibit increased social affability and better professional performance as they maintain and consequently increase their Blood Alcohol Content. Their students now look forward to their classes and even prefer to pay attention in the class rather than have their heads bowed down in search of cheap dopamine.
A significant scene arrives about 30 minutes into the movie where Martin sneaks a sip of alcohol down his throat and then asks his students who they would vote for out of three candidates. The first two candidates are revealed having an array of what one would call ‘vices’. These include having too much champagne, smoking cigars non-stop and even infidelity among other things. The third candidate, however, is a highly decorated war hero, treats women with respect, never smokes and only has a beer on rare occasions. Naturally, all the students answer unilaterally and show their preference for the third candidate. At this point, Martin smiles and tells them that by rejecting the first two options, they’ve discarded Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and by choosing the third one, they’ve elected Hitler. Martin asks the students, now in a frenzy, to focus on the point he is trying to make. “The world is never as you expect,” he says.
This takes on paramount importance as we decipher how alcohol use has been depicted in the film. Granted, all four teachers face adverse consequences when their alcohol use stretches beyond the appropriate modicum, making it clear how too much of something is bad. But as invested viewers, the need for us is to observe between the lines. Alcohol use does hold the potential to bring up issues and to lead to conflicts but the question is this: Did these issues exist hitherto and remained unacknowledged prior to said conflict or did the issue only arise as a consequence of alcohol use?
The case of Martin in the movie serves as an example wherein alcohol use functions only as a tool which makes the latent issue explicit and initiates conversation on it. Martin and his wife Anika are married but their relationship in the first half of the movie is shown as having negligible love and is characterized by a lack of mutual understanding and communication. Both of them felt the distance but couldn’t get themselves to face the music. We later find out that Anika had been ‘having fun’ with someone else as well and although it isn’t made clear what exactly this was, the viewer is sure that it carried connotations of cheating.
Therefore, in this case, issues certainly did exist even when Martin hadn’t begun his ‘experiment’. In fact, Martin’s use of alcohol only brought up what needed to be talked about, which was the emotional distance between them. Confronting a tense issue such as this is analogous to touching a live wire as it will verily lead to uncomfortable scenarios.
In this manner, regulated alcohol use can only be ‘blamed’ for giving voice to the perturbations of the subconscious. Alcohol does not turn the man violent. The man has been violent subconsciously and alcohol only makes those feelings surface. Yet in the aftermath of these alcohol-induced confrontations with reality, defeated humans only see the direct string connecting alcohol use to some kind of uncomfortable scenario. The deduction is done; a finger is pointed toward alcohol and it is declared a vice that society gradually turns into — you guessed it — a taboo.
Another Round excels in this regard as the characters abstain from alcohol if they feel like it’s doing them more harm than good but don’t simply declare it as fundamentally evil. The movie ends with the teachers celebrating the graduation of their students with them, in the way their students are notorious for: dancing and drinking like pigs.
Martin and his friends experience a better and indeed more happening life just because they know that ‘the world is never as you expect’ and things don’t conveniently fall into the dichotomic categories of good and evil. We as Indians might want to watch Another Round again.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.