George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing is a far cry from his last film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Instead of violent action, Miller delves into the thought-provoking power of fantasy and storytelling.
“My story is true, (but) you’re more likely to believe it if I tell it as a fairy tale,” declares Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a middle-aged professor of narratology (the study of stories). She married young and, when her husband left her for another woman, she felt liberated to pursue her research.
At a gift shop in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Alithea buys a decorative glass bottle that she brings to her hotel. While cleaning it, she twists the top, releasing a powerful Djinn (Idris Elba)- a.k.a. genie – who offers her three wishes.
Cautious, she asks him about his life, how he was imprisoned and what people have wished for in the past. As the Djinn answers, there are various flashbacks, including interludes with the Queen of Sheba (Aamito Lagum), King Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad) and Zefi (Burcu Golgedar), a genius inventor.
Eventually, Alithea realizes that love and companionship have been missing in her life, so she brings Djinn back to her London flat, where they enjoy a domestic partnership for several months. But – without granting wishes – the Djinn’s mystical essence begins dissipating in the modern world.
“If you make no wish at all, the Djinn warns Alithea. “I will be caught between worlds, invisible and alone for all time.”
“Love is a gift of one’s self, given freely,” she acknowledges. “It’s not something one should ever ask for.”
Adapted from A.S. Byatt’s novella The Djinn and the Nightingale’s Eye, it’s scripted as a cautionary tale by director George Miller and his daughter, Augusta Gore, with exquisite vignettes, exploring themes of fate, loneliness and the universal desire for connection. With superb comedic timing, Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba play off each other perfectly.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Three Thousand Years of Longing is an idiosyncratic, whimsical, supernatural 7, an avant-garde fable aimed an at older audience and playing in theaters.