Finding joy has been difficult for many of us recently as COVID 19 rolled across the planet, killing four million people, while those of us who could, hunkered down and waited for a vaccine to set us free again.
One of the things I learned in Lockdown was how taking a few things out of my life could dim the level of joy I’d grown accustomed to, leaving me with a happiness deficit I had to work at.
For me, one of those small things was the ability to go to the cinema with my wife and watch something remarkable. I missed the ritual of going to a cinema where there is nothing to distract me as I give my full attention to a film. I missed the freedom of absorbing what talented people had worked together to bring from their imagination to mine. Most of all, I missed talking with my wife about the film, discovering what each of us had seen and felt.
So, I thought it was particularly appropriate that the second movie that we’ve been to see since the cinemas reopened was about four middle-aged male Danish highschool teachers struggling with a deficit of joy.
The movie is called ‘Another Round’ in English and ‘Druk’ in Danish, which Microsoft Translator tells me means ‘Drinking’ and which I think is a much better title. It won the Besct International Film Oscar in 2020.
At a dinner to celebrate the fortieth birthday of the youngest of the four men, where they drink expensive wines and spirits whose virtues are extolled to them worshipfully by the wine waiter, the psychology teacher among them shares a theory, expounded by a Danish psychologist, that human Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) 0.05% lower than it should be in order to live a happy, positive life that you embrace with confidence and an open mind.
The idea resonates with Martin (Madds Mikkelsen) who has started to recognise that he is living a life without joy. He is bored with himself. He has lost his taste for his job and is in the process of losing his marriage. So, he suggests to the other three that they should try bringing their BAC up to the optimum level by drinking during the day time and then measuring the effect. Encouraged by the initial results, the men start to raise the BAC target in the hope of making things better.
Depending on your view on and experience of alcohol, you may be expecting that what happens next will be a comedy or a nightmare or a mixture of the two. It may sound depressing or debauched or like a lazy endorsement of an alcohol culture.
To me, it seemed it became none of those things. We see the good that alcohol does as it lets the teachers re-engage with their pupils and their passions.
We see the harm that it starts to do to their mental health and their ability to function.
We see how each of them copes and how they support each other and how (most of them) reach towards cautious, honest, hope.
This is a serious, thoughtful movie that is full of moments of happiness and humour as well as of depression and despair.
The people seem real. They are not characters designed for their didactic value. They are people you would recognise and want to spend time with.
The thought behind the movie goes deeper than a speculation on the impact of alcohol. It considers why it is so easy to believe that our BAC is too low and that is why we don’t have enough joy? It asks what the real joy deficit is and it comes up with different answers for each of the four men. Behind all of those answers is the idea that our expectations of ourselves and others may simply be too high. In an exam, one of the students is asked to comment on what is learnt from failure in Søren Kierkegaard’s ‘The Concept of Anxiety and says:
‘You must accept yourself as fallible in order to love others and life.’
It’s hard to get across in words alone, what this movie is like, so take a look at these two trailers and see for yourself.
I was mesmerised by the performances, the visual storytelling and the honesty of this movie. I’ll be looking for all the movies in Thomas Vinterbeg’s back catalogue.
The movie is dedicated to Ida Maria Vinterberg, Thomas Vinterberg’s daughter. She was supposed to play Martin’s (Mads Mikkeleson’s) teenage daughter in the movie. She was was killed in a car crash in Belgium four days into filming, before she was planned to film her scenes. Her character was then re-written so that Martin had two sons instead of a son and a daughter.