5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘Another Round’ Toasts the Existential Crisis With a Side of Booze
February 8, 2021
Another Round follows four men who set out to see if remaining a little drunk (only throughout their work day) can make their lives a little better. It’s a simple premise that packs a large emotional punch and is garnering Oscar® buzz for lead Mads Mikkelsen and writer-director Thomas Vinterberg. So what makes this outlandish concept work so well? Here are five reasons why that every screenwriter can use.1. Ask a Central Question.
The film's central question is intriguing, hooky and a little bit crazy. There is a real life Norwegian philosopher, Finn Skårderud, who believes all humans are born with a blood alcohol level 0.5 too low. Thus, the central characters of Another Round — four teachers who are all feeling generally uninspired about life — decide to test Skårderud’s theory. If they maintain a blood alcohol level 0.5 higher than normal, can they function better? Generally have more confidence and spirit in daily life? They reference Winston Churchill, as well as the pianist Robert Jurij Moskvitin who always played a little bit drunk (and brilliantly so). Mikkelsen’s Martin quizzes his class on who they would vote for, giving drunken politician examples. They all pick the teetotaler, responsible-sounding Hitler. Yet for a while, this experiment works. The teachers are more inspired, looser, ready to go with the flow, and embrace the more optimistic side of their past teaching personalities. But, of course, if a little alcohol is wonderful, a lot of alcohol must be better.
2. Existential WorldView.
There is a distinct philosophical through line in Another Round. Magnus Millang even plays a philosophy teacher, Nikolaj, who documents the experiment while participating and often is the biggest cheerleader of the whole project. The movie is absolutely an existential crisis film at its core. Each man feels at somewhat of a crossroads in life. As existential theorist Jean-Paul Sartre says, “existence precedes essence.” In other words, most characters must acknowledge the word “meaning” is meaningless. Mikkelsen’s Martin asks almost exactly that to his wife at the beginning of the film from bed (which he can barely crawl out of) — “Have I become boring?” When she answers yes, thus begins Martin’s journey to let go of meaning to find it. Sartre also states: “man is condemned to be free.” In other words, it’s the choice of what humans do with their discovery of lack of meaning that makes all the difference. In this case, it’s the grand experiment that provides enlightenment, freedom, depression, excess and value of life; sometimes all at once.
3. The Magic of Four.
Ensemble comedies seem to have discovered a great value in the number four. There’s Girl’s Trip, Bridesmaids, Anchorman, Spinal Tap, Monty Python, etc. There are no hard and fast rules for four people working so well, but perhaps it’s the chance to survive if one is lost, to explore interconnectivity on an even playing field of a number, and to have enough page real estate to give each a strong arc. That said, Another Round uses four wonderfully. Before shooting the film, the actors bonded by drinking and testing blood alcohol levels at different states to truly understand behavior at each level. During filming, the actors didn’t drink in order to listen to the director and be fully present. Mikkelsen also stated to The Hollywood Reporter: “The four of us made an oath to really go for it and after a while, if you get into that mood of being drunk, it takes over a little. It's like a lot of things with acting. It takes over and suddenly, it's not that difficult. But we had to make a contract that this was what we were going to do.” It worked! It’s not the drinking that anchors this movie, it is instead the closeness and vulnerability these men exhibit with each other. When barriers are gone, they deeply want to be there for one another and root for each other, and, for better or worse, sustain that. Their best chance at doing so is to continue to be there for one another and the movie leads you to believe they will be.
4. Reason for Existence.
While existential philosophers may argue the benefits of letting go of reason, in film world, characters likely have to find that reason. What’s somewhat groundbreaking about this film is that not all of the characters find that reason — much like in real life. We cannot all magically go through a hero’s journey and come out on the other side changed for the better (particularly if alcoholism is involved). It’s refreshing that Another Round acknowledges this. That said, Mikkelsen’s Martin does experience a change, and that’s refreshing too. There’s a twinge of hope for a happy ending for him. That maybe there’s something to be said for the insane experiment after all...
5. The Buzz of Mikkelsen.
While the premise of Another Round is quite genius and a wonderful hook, sometimes the filmmaker gets a bit meandering along the way, losing track of where each character is making progress or slipping away, but with Mikkelsen as Martin at the center, all forgivable. The development of the lead is relatable in a later life crisis struggle, and Mikkelsen’s vulnerabilities are deeply on display for the world to see. In fact, it’s hard to recall a movie where men’s vulnerabilities, faults and eccentricities are laid so deeply bare before the audience. It’s moving, relieving and almost comforting to watch men take down all their boundaries. It might be even more revolutionary to some day watch a movie where men can get there without the alcohol (although, of course, the actors did just that), and that’s why Mikkelsen feels a shoe-in for an Academy® Award nomination.
Final Takeaway: Another Round is an existential philosophical journey with a hooky central question that goes much deeper than its concept. As Mikkelsen says, it’s ultimately a film “about embracing life.” Though the filmmakers acknowledge it might also inspire you to reach for a drink (just maybe avoid the absinthe). Either way, the final scene will likely leave you feeling buzzed regardless, thanks in great part to Mikkelsen’s electric and buzzy performance.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/