In his first film since “Mad Max: Fury Road,” George Miller delivers a dizzying and extravagant experience with “Three Thousand Years of Longing.” Starring all-stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba alongside a cast of relative newcomers, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” packs a dreamy punch, lavishly spinning tales of old and new.
Swinton plays Alithea, a contently alone “narratologist” on a trip to Istanbul. Alithea begins as a tight-laced intellectual until she happens on a Djinn, or genie, played by Elba. The Djinn is a romantic and thoughtful being, sharing stories of the women he encountered throughout history before Alithea. Elba and Swinton are two performers I would never think to put together — their general taste in roles and performances didn’t seem compatible to me, but Miller’s direction and the complementary nature of their characters made them a strong duo.
In the film’s interwoven storytelling and Alithea’s profession as a narratologist, — essentially a media scholar — this is essentially a story about storytelling and its influence and necessity. An adaptation of the 1994 short story collection “The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye” by A.S. Byatt, this film ends up a worthy “art about art” film.
As a story itself, it’s well-crafted — mostly. Elements of the Djinn’s stories come back to the present day in noticeable but subtle ways. It’s primarily a “flashback” film, going back to the Djinn’s past of sumptuous royalty and previous clients of his three-wish promises.
The first two acts of the film are incredibly strong and enthralling, as this sort of story should be, but the third act lacks a bit. Multiple fades to black in the final minutes and many scenes that feel like the end but weren’t quite made the ultimate conclusion short and a bit anticlimactic. Although the ending’s execution is disappointing, the close is still satisfying to the story at large.
Visual effects in this film contribute to the dreamlike and fantastic imagery of the Djinn’s past. Elba is a modified version of himself with pointy ears, colored hands and scaled legs, but none of these or other effects fall flat; they all serve their purpose smoothly. It’s an over-the-top film in many ways, but it never feels excessive. After all, this is a love story, and even fanciful imagery can’t undercut that.
Perhaps the most striking element of this film is the cinematography by John Seale. For his prior film, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Miller coaxed Seale out of retirement and was nominated for an Academy Award. Miller again cajoled Seale to shoot “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” and Seale delivered once more. Flashback shots are incredibly vivid and dreamlike, swooping across the ornate sets with ease and beauty.
In a time where movies can all look and feel the same, a film like “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is a breath of fresh air. Utilizing big names like Swinton and Elba in a pulpy and overexaggerated film like this is a delight, and I’m hoping this will set a new standard for emerging maximalist movies.