George Miller’s latest film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is a modest but haunting fantasy drama about life and storytelling. While it is relatively less ambitious and memorable compared to the greatness of his previous film “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), the movie is often visually striking as doling out one splendid moment after another, and it eventually reaches to its expected finale with substantial poignancy for us.
At the beginning, we meet Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a female narratologist who has always been interested in stories throughout her whole life. When she comes to Istanbul, Turkey for attending an academic conference, she is baffled as suddenly experiencing a couple of odd incidents, and then a really strange thing happens to her later. At a local antique market, she happens to acquire a little old glass bottle, and it soon turns out that this glass bottle contains a Djinn, an old supernatural entity who can grant three wishes to whoever releases him.
While quite surprised and perplexed by this unexpected discovery, Alithea tries to handle her situation as sensibly as possible. As a story expert, she knows too well that she should be careful about whatever she may wish, and the Djinn, played by Idris Elba, consequently finds himself in a rather difficult circumstance as she refuses to make any wish. For gaining his freedom, he must convince her that he is not one of those naughty Djinns, and, what do you know, he comes to tell her a lot about his long life history.
What follows next is three different stories set in three different periods, respectively. At first, we get a story involved with the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, whose ardent courtship toward the Queen of Sheba eventually led to the banishment of the Djinn into a metal container during next several centuries. The second story is about one plain lass who yearned for the crown prince of the Osman Empire, and it goes without saying that her story did not end that well although she got her big wishes via the Djinn. In case of the third story, it mainly revolves around a very unhappy woman trapped inside her old wealthy husband’s house, and the Djinn naturally comes to feel some kinship between them as spending next several years with her in her little private place.
For each segment, the movie unfolds one impressive visual moment after another, and Miller and his crew members including cinematographer John Seale, who came out of his retirement again as he previously did for Miller in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, did a splendid job of bringing considerable style and personality to each segment. Although it is clear that they depended a lot on CGI, the result is filled with distinctive mood and details to be appreciated, and that is the main reason why each segment in the story comes to function as a part of narrative development between Alithea and the Djinn. Because of her longtime fascination with stories, she cannot help but enthralled by his stories, but she still hesitates to make her three wishes no matter how much he tries to persuade her, and that certainly frustrates him a lot.
As Alithea and the Djinn continue to cope with their seemingly intractable situation, the movie continues to impress us with more wonder and imagination, and the overall result is not so different from Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall” (2006), which shares lots of common things with Miller’s film. Besides mainly fueled by their respective directors’ ambitious storytelling experiments, both of these films often emphasize to us the power of storytelling via their sheer visual prowess, and they touchingly remind us of why we always needs stories throughout our constantly messy and chaotic life.
During the last segment, the movie stumbles more than once due to its rather uneven narrative pacing, but it still works because of what has been patiently established and then developed between its two main characters. Even though she has been quite detached to her life as well as those stories she has made or collected, Alithea comes to accept that she cannot be distant to her ongoing life story anymore, and she eventually makes an active choice for not only her but also the Djinn. While it is possible that the whole story is more or less than a piece of imagination from Alithea, the screenplay by Miller and his co-writer Augusta Gore, which is based on A.S. Byatt’s short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye”, never overlooks its emotional ground, and that is why the somber final scene is emotionally resonating.
Above all, the movie is carried well by its two captivating lead performers. While she initially seems to be stuck in a thankless role, Tilda Swinton gives another engaging performance as gradually revealing her character’s hidden deep emotional needs along the story, and Idris Elba, who has always been reliable with his natural charisma just like Swinton, finally gets a role for fully demonstrating his undeniable presence and talent. He and Swinton constantly hold our attention although they simply interact with each other within a small, limited background throughout the film, and we can always sense something interesting happening between their characters, while gladly going along with them to the end of the story.
Overall, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is one or two steps down from what Miller achieved so awesomely in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, but it is his another distinctive work at least, and I recommend it mainly for its several strong elements including the commendable acting from Swinton and Elba. To be frank with you, I admire it instead of really liking it, but, in my inconsequential opinion, you should give it a chance because, after all, this is not something you do not see at theater everyday.