Three Thousand Years of Longing, the film that director George Miller has been working on most recently, is what the world has been anxiously awaiting. It’s a movie that most likely garnered little attention before or following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. But following up a masterpiece like Mad Max: Fury Road is no easy feat considering it’s one of the greatest films ever made, and he goes for a more original fairy tale for adults that will have us asking many questions when the credits roll. You watch the trailer or gander at the poster expecting to be another one of Miller’s wild rides that’ll make The Fountain look like a kindergarten play. I didn’t catch it during its first weekend but saw it in an empty theater (a first in over ten years) on a Friday afternoon and I left pretty underwhelmed by what I witnessed.
Dr. Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is a narratologist who is happy with being independent in the world. While on a trip to Istanbul for a conference, she purchases a blue glass antique bottle from a shop containing a Djinn (Idris Elba), emerging from the bottle and setting him free. By releasing him, the Djinn tells Alithea he will grant her three wishes. She doesn’t trust he’ll give her exactly what she wants with uncertain consequences in question, and he tells her three stories of the Djinn and his various imprisonments over thousands of centuries ago.
It’s almost like Miller to give us a movie that’s not what we had expected. This doesn’t go about becoming a story of one getting what they want but exploring a weird, visual cautionary tale of how making wishes can turn us mad with power and losing what matters most. Based on A. S. Byatt’s short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” from a script from Miller and his daughter Augusta Gorem this could’ve been in contention for an epic experience unlike any other. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one I would describe as ambitious yet dull with everything around it. Three Thousand Years of Longing’s difficult task to why it never reached the peak of great expertise is because it doesn’t give us enough time to be attached to the story or characters. The investment comes on fairly quickly, but interested in what’s being played out. Since we are watching flashbacks of Djinn telling his backstory through these stories about the people he served, I wasn’t really hooked by any of them since he’s narrating them and wondering if there’s a point to them in the end. Because of that, it was hard for me to stay invested when it doesn’t involve the main characters having conversations in a hotel room in their white robes, in which most of the present takes place, and it’s a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue.
Imagine you’re a kid listening to your grandparents tell their interpretation of the fascinating stories ever but casually drifting in and out through each of them. That’s how I felt when it doesn’t give you all the answers. And I can appreciate these kinds of philosophical fantasies that don’t have me feel dumb for getting everything at once. However, it couldn’t keep my attention for a large chunk of the runtime and I needed to focus more on the beating heart of the theme of storytelling and the impact it has on people.
On the positive side, this offers two solid performances out of Swinton and Elba that makes both celebrated actors work together well enough when the script is no more compelling. Elba, especially, does make the most out of playing the Djinn, keeping certain scenes alive with his presence. Technically, it’s very impressive from the cinematography from John Seale, the score from Junkie XL, and the colorful production design to take in. And from a visual standpoint, some shots looked beautiful, while some looked distracting, mainly a giant Elba next to Swinton.
Seeing something original, distinct, and not on the same mad page as Mad Max: Fury Road was different, but despite Miller and everyone else’s creative efforts, there wasn’t enough magic contained. Since it performed poorly during its opening weekend, which was moved forward from its planned release date, I can understand why it was challenging to market this. And this made it clear it probably won’t make back its $40 million budget. So this is definitely one I can see where it will be heavenly divisive between everybody; I’m the kind of in the minority where it did little for me, unfortunately.
Three Thousand Years of Longing explores George Miller’s sheer ambition with his adult cautionary tale of wishing. But while Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba’s performances were a plus and it’s visually dazzling (mostly), the storytelling approach made it difficult to find any connection.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 108 Minutes. Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity and brief violence. Studio: MGM.