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Reframing Failure
Lorraine Reynolds

The struggle of accepting our failings cannot be separated from society’s view of failure. In the past society did not give us as much credit for failing as succeeding, somewhere along the way failing became a dirty word. Yet, in recent years much has changed as the message from authors to motivational speakers on the topic of failure appears to proclaim that we are all the better for having messed up. From films, podcasts to TED talks and self-care books, the topic of failure is increasingly discussed, monetised and has never been so popular. Thomas Vinterberg’s new film, Another Round, serves as a compelling exploration of this universal experience, that of grappling with failure.

 

The impassive Mads Mikkelsen plays Martin, a high-school history teacher who along with a small group of colleagues decide to test Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s hypothesis that throughout the day man is born with a 0.5 blood alcohol level shortfall and that rectifying this shortfall could start to open our minds, boost our courage and in turn increase our creativity. However, when unpacked, Another Round is not simply about drinking alcohol but instead about the harsh reality of a modern condition, not living up to societal expectations and the vision of who we wanted to be in life with all four teachers confronting their own individual failures whether personal or professional. As such, it is a film that delves deep into themes of identity, failure, risk-taking and creative freedom. In an interview with Vogue, Vinterberg reveals that:

 

“I hope this film is in contact with a deeper conversation than just how much or how to drink...it’s a battle against being graded, evaluated, and living a very controlled life...Another Round is a reaction against these things; a riot for the uncontrollable...letting go of control, allowing yourself to fail...there’s a constant evaluation of all of us, particularly now with people on social media, it doesn’t leave much room for being inspired or impulsive or creative, and I think people miss that.”

 

Another Round 2020

The film's theme of failure can be a difficult matter to discuss, as many of us try to avoid failure at all costs. Nonetheless, one thing remains clear, we will all fail, multiple times at something in some way, big or small, throughout our lives. Yet, Another Round offers us hope as we watch the characters confront their failures head on and embark on a journey of personal growth, transformation, and self-discovery. As such, the film beautifully underscores the importance of embracing our imperfections.

Even so, Dr. Curran a professor of psychology at the London School of Economics observes that accepting our failures and imperfections can be extremely difficult for many of us, as we live in a culture that tells us we are never enough, with many of us instead looking toward perfectionism as an attempt to get ahead.

 

Nonetheless, akin to Another Round, Dr. Curran also promotes that there is a liberation that will come from letting go of perfection, a difficulty that many famous artists have also worked to overcome. Sol LeWitt's famous letter of advice to artist Eva Hesse on believing in her ability to create and letting go of perfectionism when she tackled self-doubt during a creative block, is one such instance. LeWitt writes:

 

“Just stop thinking, worrying...If you feel fear, exploit it: paint and draw your fear and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things like finding a purpose and a way to live, a coherent approach to a perhaps impossible or imaginary end...you need to practice being stupid, silly, empty...but above all, relax and blow everyone to hell...try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell...you’re not responsible for the world-you’re only responsible for your own work, so DO IT”.

 

I admire LeWitt’s letter of encouragement to Eva as so much of the real rawness, beauty and success of art lies, counterintuitively, in the development of the ‘failed’ work, the mistakes, the risks and experimentations. Failure is key to our liberation, it is about learning from our mistakes or as Beckett, the maestro of failure states failure is the artist’s world ...’fail better’.

 

Consequently, failure is not what defines us, it is how we respond to it. Elizabeth Day, author of How to Fail proclaims “learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better”. In other words, by reframing failure we can meet it with curiosity instead of shame as most of our failings, whether professional or personal, will be a part of our growth and learning experience. Failing can build emotional resilience, shape us as individuals and most failures can teach us something about ourselves, but we must choose to listen.

 

No doubt, life will be messy and for many of us, major screw ups and failures can make life a whole lot messier. The television series Fleabag created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge tackles the messy chaos of life. The Female protagonist Fleabag – who is never actually named in the show covers failures in everything from friendships, love, and work. Fleabag superbly affirms every woman’s right to mess up in style, she is a woman who is not successful in the way that society believes we should be. Her character contradicts the stereotypical picture of feminine perfection, she is unashamedly imperfect, real, and messy in public.

 

Likewise, Elizabeth Day notes that we are all caught up in this messy business of being human. During an interview with Happy Pear, the author further talks about how failure should not be geared towards a Silicon Valley approach with its caption of ‘fail fast’ which recommends us to actively pursue failing faster so that we can succeed quicker. Instead, it is seeing failure and imperfection as something that connects us all, a shared vulnerability, where I feel the truest sense of us lies, the part of us that is not diligently trying to be perfect. This shared universal experience played out terrifically in both Vinterberg’s Another Round and Waller-Bridge's Fleabag.

 

When we communicate openly about our vulnerabilities and failings, it opens a space for others around us to feel less alone, making way for inclusive and authentic communication compared to the curated life that social media continuously plays out directly in front of us. Besides, no matter how hard we try to avoid failure professionally or personally, we cannot avoid it fully in life; once we realise this, it is quite liberating.

Vincent van Gogh quote

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