In “Three Thousand Years of Longing” Tilda Swinton plays a narratologist, someone who studies stories. Your character, Dr. Alithea Binnie, thinks she’s heard them all, so she’s ahead of the game when she suddenly finds herself at the center of a Whopper, a modern day fairy tale starring a Djinn (Idris Elba) ready and eager to grant her three Wishes. Some films strive to uncover the meaning of life. This aims to uncover the meaning of films – while director George Miller tries to crack the all-encompassing formula for a story, just as Albert Einstein did for theoretical physics.
That’s a lot to bite off for any filmmaker, but we’re talking about George Miller here, and where else do you go after you’ve done that no plus ultra from action movies, “Mad Max: Fury Road”? Many will describe “Three Thousand Years of Longing” as a relatively small project for a director so creatively ambitious, who also made penguins dance (“Happy Feet”) and pigs talk (“Babe”). Perhaps it is, although this unconventional romance – adapted from AS Byatt’s The Djinn in the Eye of the Nightingale – spans two continents, three millennia and countless languages, attempting to turn the recycled clichés of all that has into a utterly original one to make love story come before.
Audiences these days are so adept at the tricks at a filmmaker’s disposal that film’s greatest accomplishment is that it grabs our imaginations (or maybe that’s our attention-deficit disorder that’s so harshly treated) and uses them for the greatest Part of two hours defiantly keeps us anticipating what’s coming next. Sure, the first turning point is predictable enough. After all, you can’t have a wish story without a bottle djinn any more than you can have a Tom Collins without a bottle of gin. But once the magic ship is activated, everyone can guess where this crazy roller coaster is going.
Believing that “all gods and monsters survive their original purpose,” Alithea is understandably skeptical of a mythical creature like the pointy-eared spirit of Elba, trying to approach the situation as logically as possible. That’s a tall order for Miller, who’s essentially a professional daydreamer, and Swinton, whose openness to unusual collaborations is why we love them in the first place. Here we are supposed to believe that she is a conservative soul, too level-headed and dispassionate to accept the Djinn’s offer.
That leaves him with a duty to influence this wary new master, who believes that desires always backfire because they inevitably turn out that way in whatever story every culture tells about them—which isn’t true, mind you. Just ask Walt Disney, who has made a career of granting wishes with no strings attached up to and including the company’s wizarding spirit classic, Aladdin. Still, encountering a character in Alithea’s position who declines the offer to manifest her heart’s desire feels relatively new. She’s at a point in her life where she doesn’t want anything, she tells the ghost.
But the Djinn has at least one thing she craves: it’s full of stories, and for most of the film’s runtime, it will delight Alithea with the accounts of its past masters and how it eluded freedom for so many centuries is. This is about as potent an aphrodisiac as one could tell a know-it-all, and Alithea doesn’t listen like a scholar—let alone a critic—but more like a child, delighted to hear the true story behind the legend by Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad) and Sheba (Aamito Lagum), which looks like a cheesy Zack Snyder fantasy executed on a fraction of the budget, or something Tarsem might have turned down for one of his music videos.
Seriously, what made Miller and The Chronicles of Narnia production designer Roger Ford settle for such outrageously artificial, mostly virtual sets? The film’s poorly rendered sets already look dated: endless artificial deserts looming over garish CG palaces with their Maxfield Parrish interiors and naked (or nearly naked) courtesans and queens. The film has an odd problem with male and female privates being hidden out of frame most of the time, but occasionally coming into view when a pregnant slave spreads her legs directly into the camera, or a Djinn’s tastefully shaded Djenitalia lolls into the light .
Regardless of whether Miller’s aesthetic appeals to you or not, it’s basically his trademark to reject what more conventional filmmakers understand by “good taste.” He’s among an oddball bunch of ’80s Shlock filmmakers who made it big – a class that includes Dead Alive writer Peter Jackson and Evil Dead actor Sam Raimi – who have taken their vision to a forever stretched larger budgets while sticking to the animation and gonzo stunts that betray their B-movie roots.
After the Sheba sequence, the jinn spends 1,500 years in a brass vase and reappears in early Ottoman Istanbul, where the second sultan in the series spends his adulthood in a harem with stout concubines. One named “Sugar Lump” (Anna “Betty” Adams) almost smashes the vase with her powerful hindquarters. Skip ahead a few centuries, and the Djinn is on call again, this time in response to an insatiably curious woman named Zefir (Burcu Gölgedar) who desires to possess all knowledge that is good and beautiful in the world. That’s a noble goal, even though she’s ahead of her time, a brilliant woman trapped in a sexist culture. A well-formulated wish would no doubt solve that, but Miller prefers to make his supposedly feminist point of view while this poor woman is abused from behind.
The Djinn goes on to explain how he found Zefir’s intelligence irresistible and almost sabotage his own fate to spend a few months madly in love with her. Alithea and author AS Byatt clearly know more about jinn than the average viewer, but it doesn’t take a PhD. in narratology to recognize this spirit crosses some serious conflict of interest lines. What effect will all this supernatural oversharing have on Alithea? It’s foreplay, of course.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” comes at a time when storytellers are embracing well-worn formats, just as “Russian Doll” has reshuffled the “Groundhog Day” genre or “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has made the multiverse rulebook . Perhaps jaded audiences will appreciate just how self-consciously innovative Miller’s take on the Djinn film tries to be. Or maybe they’re wondering why someone with Alithea’s training can’t tell a more coherent story when Joseph Campbell’s tried-and-true monomyth has worked so well for Miller before.
https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/three-thousand-years-of-longing-review-george-miller-1235271568/ “Three Thousand Years of Longing” Review: A Wishy-Washy Fantasy