All You Need Is Love
First and foremost, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a story about stories. The history of stories, the way in which we tell stories, and the generational impact of those stories. How stories make us feel, make us yearn, make us swoon, make us fundamentally who we are. How stories become passed down from generation to generation and find themselves colored by those telling them. Where is the intersection of truth and stories? And how much can we expect our narrators to be bastions of truth? Further, the film probes how the stories we tell ourselves and others about who we are become self-fulfilling prophecies. Essentially – how autobiography can trap their tellers, ensnaring them within a cycle of lying about who or what they truly are. It’s a shame then that the least successful aspect of this particular yarn is the way that it unspools its story.
Told through a series of tableaus throughout thousands of ages, this tale of a narratologist who frees a djinn after a chance purchase at an Istanbul flea market struggles to convince us why this story actually matters. Tilda Swinton is Alithea, a lonely but fulfilled scholar who claims to have everything in life that she wants. That proposition is tested when she unwittingly unleashes a djinn (Idris Elba) who promises her three wishes. They proceed to chat a lot.
The two spend the vast majority of the movie in fluffy white bath robes in a hotel room, the djinn recounting past stories to prove that he is not a trickster but a genuine magic genie, pure of intentions. Director George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) adapts from A.S. Byatt’s novella “The Djinn in the Nightingales’s Eye”, squeezing the narrative for all the visual flair then he can, though his translation of the short story doesn’t offer up nearly enough in the way of character development or narrative power. By the conclusion of the movie, I still felt like I did not know who Alithea was nor did I understand the struggles she grapples with that the film hints at early on.
[READ MORE: Our review of George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”, ranked the #1 Movie of 2015]
Too much of the film is told in voice-over, the interactions between the principals characters limited to their telling stories to one another. Which might work had they had more palpable chemistry – which they do not. Each is strong in their own right but the film demands a deep yearning – an infinitesimal longing – and physical attraction that simply is not present on the screen. The film can barely sustain 108 minutes of longing much less three thousand years.
Debuting at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to mixed reviews, Miller’s feature succeeds in fits and starts, offering bold images that underscore precisely the kind of magic that this djinn story promises. Miller’s imagination runs absolutely wild in these moments, allowing for some striking visual slap shots that truly makes Three Thousand Years of Longing pop. As the film’s cadence – flashback to modern day to flashback, ad nasuem – crystallizes, one realizes that Miller and Co. haven’t really left themselves enough room to truly get off the ground. Contemplative but unable to contain the chaos, the film feels thinly written and overlong – too much a series of random events and less a cohesive whole. Although it clocks in under two hours, the film lacks a traditional three act structure and so feels noticeably lacking in terms of story propulsion and climax. In a word, Miller’s latest is flat. There’s no peaks and valleys, just one long, modest trek from beginning to end.
[READ MORE: Our review of 2022 creature feature ‘Beast‘, also starring Idris Elba]
Some have already found much to love here and those looking for a dreamy deconstruction of djinn mythology may certainly find the offerings here worthwhile but let’s not pretend that there’s any kind of broad commercial appeal. General audiences will likely find Miller’s latest built on shaky foundation, plodding, pointless perhaps. For all the striking visuals and Elba’s seductive turn as a lovelorn genie, Three Thousand Years of Longing remains difficult to recommend. The core of the film implies that love is the one thing you can’t wish for because it must be given freely. I wish I loved what Miller created, but I can’t pretend that that’s actually true.
CONCLUSION: A visually-arresting story about a scholar and the djinn who offers her three wishes, ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ doesn’t quite bring the magic. Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are solid in their respective roles but they lack chemistry.
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