August 28, 2022 Three Thousand Years of Longing (Movie Review)
What does a woman wish for when she thinks she has everything? Visionary director George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City 1998, Mad Max: Fury Road 2015) explores how stories have the power to unlock hidden desires in Three Thousand Years of Longing. Starring Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive 2013, Doctor Strange 2016) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation 2015, The Suicide Squad 2021), this lush production hits US theaters on Friday, August 26, 2022 via MGM. Those looking for a follow-up to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road will find that this film is closer to the Babe end of the Miller spectrum, but its gorgeous visuals and layered storytelling are worth a trip to the theater.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is about stories. Using a framework of several stories within a story within a story, the film takes a deep dive into the reasons why people need stories. It is not as confusing or convoluted as it sounds. In fact, the film is broken down like a book complete with a narrator and chapters. That narrator is Alithea Binnie (Swinton), an esteemed narratologist who travels to Istanbul for a storytelling conference. After a series of bizarre run-ins with a few supernatural beings, Alithea finds a bottle buried in the back of a bazaar stall. She soon discovers that this bottle contains a djinn (Elba) who will grant her three wishes.
But Alithea is an expert in stories. She knows all the cautionary tales about trickster djinn and the consequences of having your deepest desires granted. She believes that she is perfectly content with what she has, but the djinn needs her to make three wishes in order to regain his freedom. Now stuck together in an Istanbul hotel room, the two swap stories. The djinn spins intricate tales of his time with legendary leaders and his grand romances. When Alithea, who is much less forthcoming with her own tales, finally makes her first wish, it leads to consequences neither could anticipate.
What Three Thousand Years of Longing succeeds at is inspiring imagination by straying from traditional storytelling beats that modern audiences are used to. Simultaneously, though, the film is all about traditional storytelling, interwoven in a complex pattern that will keep viewers guessing. Its lush visuals, rich textures, and stunning special effects make each story come to life on screen in a way that only Miller is capable of.
While there are several types of stories at work here, at the true heart of this film is a tenuous romance. While Alithea and the Djinn appear as opposites on the surface, their stories eventually bind them together—in one way or another. Swinton and Elba are powerhouses on screen. They have the ability to portray intimacy in a story that is downright chaste by contemporary standards. The film is more of a romance in the historical sense, but at the same time, there is a sweet love story at its core. Some viewers may be expecting more, but the subdued nature of their affair felt refreshing.
Three Thousand Years of Longing plays like a storybook come to life—both its strength and weakness. Like a storybook, the morality in some of these stories is so on-the-nose that there is little room for nuance. It is a fairytale for adults—sweet, charming, and too-neat. Even so, Excellent performances by Swinton and Elba keep this character piece interesting even when the stories begin to lull. The outstanding visuals alone are reason enough to add this film to your watchlist. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Three Thousand Years of Longing 3.5 out of 5 stars.