George Miller is back with the dazzling and heady fantasy Three Thousand Years of Longing.
A sweeping romance. An adventure of escape. An epic told over thousands of years. A commentary on storytelling itself. A hopeful whisper. The newest from writer/director/mad man extraordinaire Dr. George Miller is all these things and none of these things. Hence is the magic of one of the most daring, provocative, and ravishing films of 2022.
We have seen this plot before. A Genie or Djinn (Idris Elba) is unlocked from his Prison by an unsuspecting human (Tilda Swinton) only to grant her three wishes before he can be free. Though never as how conceived by novelist AS Byatt and adapted by screenwriters Miller and Augusta Gore. Rather than be your traditional Arabian Nights-inspired tale, they have conceived a story that takes into account our technology-driven era where we have heard the tale of Aladdin a thousand times before.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is that film that asks and plainly states, “what about asking for infinite wishes” or “no good comes of the wishing” or “how exactly did an all-powerful Djinn get into such a tiny space”. These are things that Miller never sidesteps but relishes the challenge of these roadblocks. Where others see roadblocks to ignore, Miller and Three Thousand Years of Longing find the opportunity to be more than a fanciful tale.
Nothing is a mistake or by chance in this story. Alithea Binnie (Swinton) is an academic on a trip for research and writing on the very subject of myths and mythos that swirl the entire film. It’s through her that the narrative changes to a more reflexive one. One where our Djinn tells of human folly and of his own follies over thousands of years of culture and society that is dark, constantly at war, sexist, abusive, drunk off the fear of losing power and power itself.
At 108-minutes, Three Thousand Years of Longing is the paradigm of visual storytelling. Miller in collaboration with Cinematographer John Seale, Editor Margaret Sixel, Production Designer Roger Ford, and Costume Designer Kym Barrett has taken visual storytelling to another level. The film is overstuffed with so much visual accompaniment to the narrative the film is almost subliminal in the way that it tells you, its story. This kind of storytelling can only be achieved through the sort of team that has complete trust in its director and vice versa. It’s no mistake that Miller is collaborating with the same team that helped make Mad Max: Fury Road an instant classic.
There has been further refinement in the visual narrative style that Miller created in his action-on-the-go film from 2015. In Three Thousand Years of Longing, it translates to a film telling a tale spanning multiple lifetimes, political constructs, and events in history, with a wealth of depth and grace that films longer cannot succeed in doing. It does the impossible in that it makes everything it does look easy as though every filmmaker half Miller’s spry 77 years, should be able to do this. It is the magic and alchemy inherent in Miller’s process that makes one believe in a Djinn and his very real quest for freedom that he’s so has wanted and waited patiently for more than a few millennia.
Three Thousand Years of Longing does not work without the amazing volley between Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. Both actors bring their considerable talents and charms to their respective roles and to the intelligent dance they must play through the runtime. Elba is perfectly cast as Djinn a being with the patience of a God. Swinton’s nervous caustic Alithea is a perfect counterpoint bringing humanity to a role that could have been easily interior and impenetrable. Together the chemistry, intelligence, wit, and heat displayed onscreen are more palpable than any pairing of recent memory. One of the many charms of the film is how this mature relationship evolves over the course of the film and how Elba and Swinton who have rarely been given roles like these – or at least versions of them that are this well written – in cinema.
Three Thousand Years of Longing by its end will make one visually drunk on the possibilities of stories and storytelling. A trip and experience that – for the most hopefully romantic of us – will take over and over again. To say Miller has created another classic would be a misnomer. Three Thousand Years of Longing is not prosaic enough a film to be instantly labeled something as limited as that. Only time will tell.
Until then Three Thousand Years of Longing is a film of uncommon beauty and dizzyingly complex storytelling. One that you will not soon forget.