Three Thousand Years of Longing
Storytelling is a fascinating part of the human experience. It is also a shockingly large part of our everyday lives. We tell each other stories to entertain, explain, teach and make sense of the world we live in. It can assist us in looking forward, looking back and living in the present. The enchanting fantasy/drama Three Thousand Years of Longing (based on the 1994 short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt) explores the different ways storytelling impacts people. The way it helps individuals deal with love, loss, grief and regret. Director/cowriter George Miller has crafted his own lovely story, about love, patience, loneliness and storytelling itself.
There is something old-fashioned about a movie that bluntly refers to itself as a fairytale in its opening moments. It feels very much like it is patterned after a collection such as One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Miller embraces that feeling, using it for a magical, modern-day, adult fairytale.
Alithea is a narratologist (literally, she studies the structure of narratives and the commonalities of stories). While in Istanbul for a conference, she buys an interesting bottle as a souvenir. When she cleans the bottle, it opens and a Djinn pops out, informing her that she has three wishes.
What follows is an anthology of sorts, as the Djinn tells her how he came to be in her presence and Alithea contemplates her heart’s greatest desire. Of course, his stories are meant to get her to make a wish and, of course, someone as well-versed in all kinds of stories as she is would know that those about Djinns usually end up being cautionary tales. The different vignettes are intriguing, dealing as they do with power, gender roles, various types of longing and the loneliness that comes with being a Djinn. However, the heart of the movie comes from how what the Djinn says effects Alithea.
Three Thousand Years of Longing (101 minutes, not including the end credits) is a visually gorgeous movie, but Miller manages that without leaning excessively on fantasy imagery. For the most part, the Djinn is the only magical element on display. Instead, Miller shows his audiences things that seem to come from myth: massive castles, bountiful feasts, beautiful princesses, handsome princes, shining jewels and other amazing things that won’t be spoiled here. Almost all of this is shown in bright colors, making even the bad memories enjoyable to hang around in. It is no wonder Alithea is so drawn-in: her world is dull and lonely; the ones he creates are vibrant, exciting and teeming with emotion.
Though there is a decent amount of action, the pieces are tied together by quite a few scenes of the two main characters in a single hotel room, talking. In order for this to work, Miller would need actors who can be interesting while sitting and listening. He certainly got that with Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba.
It can be revealing just to see them thinking and reacting. Swinton is especially skilled at it, which is good considering that most of her scenes take place in one room. Elba gets more space since he is present in what basically play as flashbacks for him. The way he conveys the pain of a powerful being with incredibly limited freedom is really impressive (he definitely gets more to sink his teeth into here than he did in last week’s Beast). The two have an engaging chemistry based on intelligence and curiosity that is fun to see.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is thoughtful in its approach, smart and absolutely worth a watch for anyone in love with the art of storytelling. It is also surprisingly energetic and just plain entertaining. This is the type of movie the big-screen was made for.
4 out of 5
Tilda Swinton as Alithea
Idris Elba as The Djinn
Directed by George Miller
Written by George Miller and August Gore