I had Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy from the library. The original miniseries. And it turned out I couldn’t renew it, because someone else wanted to watch it. I gamely watched an episode or two; I’d seen and liked the movie, and while I hadn’t read the book, it was something I could see myself doing at some point. But I just couldn’t get into it, and I gave it up. You see, that sort of thing is for cooler weather to me, when I have the concentration to remember who all these people are.
Mood matters. As serious critics, we try not to let it, but it absolutely does. Oh, I grant you, sometimes, the failings or merits of a work are so obvious that you know you’d feel the same way about something regardless, but for a lot of stuff on the edge, it falls one way or the other simply because of how you’re feeling about other things. This is probably the strongest argument in favour of watching things The Right Way; in theory, that will help put you in the mood. But what if you’re not in the mood for watching things The Right Way?
Look, I’m bipolar. My mood is a fragile and capricious thing. And my four-year-old son is learning how to suggest things for it; if I’m in a bad mood, he suggests what he still calls “Lala” (Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I think became “Lala” because of the theme song?) with a cheerful “This will make you feel better.” If I’m in a more neutral mood, whatever he wants is “This you like?” Which, no, probably not, but he knows I’m in less of a mood to argue with him and insist on my own way in viewing. I don’t know; maybe that makes me sound like a terrible parent. But he’s already learning about his own moods, too, and they are also fragile and capricious. He’s sad? Maybe Inside Out.
I think we’re too inclined to beat ourselves up about not finishing Shoah because we were having just barely too good a day—the kind of day that would definitely swing into the bad day category by sitting through Shoah. And in fact, that’s why I didn’t finish it myself; my mental state at the time I got it from the library was not what would have been best served by sitting through eight hours of Holocaust testimony. And I’m sorry if I keep referring to what is by all accounts a great documentary as “sitting through it,” but if you’re not in its emotional space, isn’t that pretty much what you’re doing?
Everyone has a story about the time they couldn’t get on a movie’s wavelength. I think it’s most common with comedy or heavy documentaries—the stuff that’s most personal and also most dependent on being in a certain mental state. Some days, certain things just aren’t going to be funny. If you’re a professional, it’s literally your job to try to see through that. But I am not a professional, just a sort of compensated amateur, and therefore, I let the person on the hold list after me have the miniseries.