REVIEW: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Idris Elba as the Djinn and Tilda Swinton as Alithea Binnie in THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING — PHOTO: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer..

Directed by George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) — Screenplay by George Miller and Augusta Gore.

Quite clearly a passion project for the Australian filmmaker, George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing is based on A. S. Byatt’s collection of short stories titled The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. It follows a British scholar named Alithea Binnie (played by Tilda Swinton) who, while in Turkey, buys an antique bottle, which, later, unleashes a great and powerful Djinn (played by Idris Elba). The Djinn is desperate for Alithea to make three wishes, but she — as a narratologist with a deep understanding of narrative structures, traits, and tropes — is worried that the Djinn is just a hallucination or possibly even a trickster. In an attempt to convince her, the Djinn tells her his life story.

Passion projects don’t always materialize in a way that is satisfying or intelligible, but this film hooked me with its frame story’s focus on narratology, academia, and its protagonist’s obsession with outsmarting the potential trickery of the mythological scenario. It feels like the exact type of fantasy that a history and narrative buff would dream up, and I ate it all up. With each flashback story that the Djinn would tell, I felt as if I was inching ever more closely toward the screen. These flashbacks are deeply engrossing with their odd details and fantasy elements, like beings that can stop Djinns, the act of trying to lure someone to the bottle, and the way one King tries to woo the Djinn’s master. These colorful and inventive sequences are easily worth the price of admission (or, you know, the price of the blu-ray or VOD). The two main roles are impeccably cast and those actors give themselves fully to the roles, even when, in Elba’s case, the role goes strange places. I thought this film was wildly inventive and ambitious, and it mostly works as this historical fiction mythological fantasy.

I think it structurally is somewhat confounding, though. A plethora of title cards made the film feel somewhat disjointed to me, and, though this is mostly a third-act problem, the same can be said for the way certain scenes would fade to black for no apparent reason other than to just skip a considerable amount of time to make the runtime shorter (yes, that’s a guess, but it feels like there’s a longer film here, and I want it). Furthermore, I think the film doesn’t quite sell the emotions that it, for the main character, tries to conjure up. The ending feels kind of sudden, rushed, and tacked on. It feels too easy and is nowhere near as compelling as the storytelling throughout the marvelous first two-thirds of the film, which features gorgeously made mythological storytelling that made me yearn for more wide-eyed fantasy in modern media. I also think that the main character’s profession and her narration kind of gave away everything that would end up happening. It almost feels like someone couldn’t quite come up with an ending that matched the otherwise magical stories that the frame story held together.

In general, as a film, it sort of reminded me of What Dreams May Come in that it is, both with regards to storytelling and visuals, incredibly ambitious (I’ll never forget the painted realm in that aforementioned film). For these reasons, I loved the story and wanted more of it. But with regards to the visuals, I also think its reach exceeded its grasp. Strangely hit-or-miss visual effects made me question how much of every shot was even real. And while there are wildly ambitious visuals that I can excuse getting sort of inexplicable or hard to figure out, I think even the plainest shots using visual effects can sometimes feel mostly artificial in a way that brought me somewhat out of the film.

Ultimately, I really loved George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing. It is full of beautiful colors, great imagination, gorgeous costumes, and eye-opening visuals. It is a marvelously ambitious fantasy-fairy tale film that gets so close to being a true all-timer. But in spite of all the stuff that works so wonderfully (I would’ve gladly watched several additional flashbacks), the ending and its structural deficiencies hold it back somewhat. Still, it is the kind of film that I wished we had more of these days (more magic and magical realism in movies, please).

8.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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