Three Thousand Years of Longing

THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING is the new George god damn Miller movie. So obviously you should see it. Here are some thoughts.

It makes sense, but also is really funny, that in the seven (!) years since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD this project was sometimes described as the small movie Miller wanted to make before diving into another Mad Max. The reason it makes sense is that it’s a simple love story centered around two characters, and much of it is one long conversation taking place inside a hotel room. The reason it’s funny is that one of the characters is telling stories set in different cultures and across centuries, with kings and queens and magic and imaginative creatures and many frames filled with too much meticulous detail to absorb in one viewing.

The best way I can describe it is that it’s a whole lot like Richard Linklater’s BEFORE movies, other than being in almost every way their opposite.

What that means is it’s intimate, free-flowing, conversational, a matter of wit and chemistry and spark and storytelling, yet it’s also that patented Miller maximalism, where every image, every costume, every location, every odd word choice feels lovingly designed and plotted to fit just right. It’s the mythical wrapped in the casual and everyday. It dazzles with every perfect transition, like the cut from the landing gear lowering as a jet comes in to beneath a 3-wheeled luggage cart being pushed through the airport. No shot, no moment, is a throwaway. So many of its frames look like perfectly composed paintings, but it never seems like a series of paintings, because the movement of the camera is so important. Though only occasionally swooping through explosions and battles as in FURY ROAD, the camera seems just as matter-of-factly inventive, finding interesting lenses and effects to express perspectives and feelings visually. Cinematographer John Seale [DEATHCHEATERS] came out of retirement for FURY ROAD and returned to it after this one. Thank you for your service, sir.

Oh yeah, so what’s it about? Magic, I guess. By which I mean stories and love. Alithea (Tilda Swinton, CONSTANTINE) is a narratologist – an expert on the similarities between stories told across time and cultures, who visits Istanbul for a speaking engagement. She’s been having strange hallucinations and then she picks up a memento, a small blue and white glass bottle, which she disovers contains a Djinn (Idris Elba, PROM NIGHT) when she accidentally pops the lid off in her hotel bathroom.

Alithea (via Miller), being a lover of tales, illustrates the unlikelihood of gravitating to this particular antique at the bottom of this pile in this room of this shop on this street lined with similar shops – and then refusing to be talked out of it – to suggest either fate or spectacularly good (or bad) so-called luck.

The Djinn fills up the room like a parade balloon, but shrinks down and puts on a hotel bathrobe after she gets him talking. The hook is that he needs to grant her heart’s desire in three wishes before he can be free to move on with his existence, but because of her particular expertise Alithea is convinced “there are no stories about wishes which are not cautionary tales.” And she believes she’s happy with her life how it is, a claim that seems reasonable despite her restless leg while speed-reading possibly signifying otherwise. Yeah, she’s a widow divorced, but she studies what she loves, gets to travel, has nice colleagues who like and respect her, and seems very self reliant. It seems like a good life to me, but I suppose when a lady like that meets Idris Elba she starts considering the possibilities more.

I saw two prominent Black critics indicating on Twitter that this was racist trash, and I purposely waited to read their reviews until writing down my thoughts, only to discover that neither have reviewed it. I’m interested to hear their take. The Djinn exists in Arabian or Persian type settings, without references to Africans other than the unparalleled beauty of the Queen of Sheba (Africa’s Next Top Model winner Aamito Lagum). But there is an undeniable discomfort in this white woman just casually having a Black Djinn in her servitude, especially since he seems to be an exotic sexual attraction even for her xenophobic neighbors. I think that’s meant to be uncomfortable though – Alithea’s overthinking and intellectualizing of her choice and taking her god damn leisurely time about it while every story he tells her underlines why she should hurry the fuck up and figure out how to get him the freedom he’s waited thousands of years for.

He describes that time as his “incarcerations.” The stories of how he got in and out of each lamp involve all kinds of palace intrigue, secret crushes, coups, and lines of succession. He gets stuck hidden under a tile for generations, trying different tricks to bring attention to himself. I like how we see him granting wishes not with the wave of his hand, but having to strategize and work to achieve the needed results. Alithea is correct that wishes can go wrong, but the Djinn really tries to lead the wishers to be smart about it (with varied results).

There are so many instances of Miller’s imaginative invention: Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad) playing a stringed instrument that sprouts wooden arms to play itself, another Djinn (or demon or something?) who crawls up the side of a tunnel, drips to the ground as a weird spider creature and then scatters into a swarm of bugs – things like that. And there are great visual ideas: hair melting into liquid gold, The Djinn’s legs covered in navy blue scales, the very noticeable dust in the air in Alithea’s house that we eventually realize are pieces of the Djinn flaking off. He starts as smoke and eventually turns to ash.

The score has some very beautiful strings that reminded me of a part of the FURY ROAD score that makes me emotional even hearing it out of context, because I know it’s when Furiosa realizes the Green Place no longer exists, drops to her knees and screams in anguish. I figured it couldn’t be ol’ Junkie XL on this one because it didn’t have any beats or guitars or anything but yeah, it’s him, Tom Holkenborg. Good job.

This is a fairy tale for adults, based on a short story (“The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt), adapted by Miller & newcomer Augusta Gore. The visual style reminds me at times of BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (which had the same production designer, Roger Ford). I mean, this part, obviously…

…but also just the storybook perfection of the whole thing. When the Djinn’s not telling stories we’re in a real world that does invoke the specific times we’re living in – many KN-95 masks are worn, there’s tension with the anti-immigrant neighbors – and it’s less golden and colorful than the stories. But it’s still beautiful, because it’s George Miller, and because stories make the world more beautiful.

THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING is one of those movies that I loved from the first frame to the last, but did feel a bit thrown off when it ended. I enjoyed the journey and I got many ideas out of it but I’m not sure I clicked with specifically what it was saying. Wired did a good interview with Miller and asked him, “When you’re putting together a movie, do you try and craft what you want people to receive, or are you more interested in seeing what they get and where they take it?” He said, “It’s both, and where you find the balance is really how a film has meaning, or engages an audience one way or another.”

In the almost-end, Alithea and the Djinn try to live together in her cute but tiny house. Seeing his oversized body crammed into that hedge-lined mini-backyard of hers trying to be comfortable really makes it feel wrong. So the part I received most, as Alithea and the Djinn face the fact that if he stays with her then cell phone towers will cause him to disintegrate, is that magic is hard to maintain in the modern world. But if you play your cards right it might come visit you now and again. And if so, you should appreciate it.

What Miller wanted us to receive I’m less sure of, but it’s clearly an ingenious and personal movie that nobody else would’ve thought to make or would’ve had any fuckin clue how to make. That’s all I ask of George Miller, and he’s under no obligation to deliver, but he always does.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2022 at 10:03 am and is filed under Fantasy/Swords, Reviews, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Three Thousand Years of Longing”

  1. Was also curious to see if Odie would actually write about this, but other than his angry tweets nothing materialised. I don’t know. I’m not seeing what he’s seeing.

  2. I dunno, I can understand Djinns being offended by this movie…

  3. I really liked it too, though I think maybe the final act of the film can maybe be a bit of a jarring come-down from how heady and weird the first couple of parts are with its much more mundane leanings.
    “Yeah, she’s a widow”
    I thought she was divorced, and there’s a scene of her passing by her ex-husband with his new partner during that part of the film, the implication being that they tried to have a baby, lost it, and she wasn’t willing to try again and he left her over it.

  4. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    September 14th, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    I lived in Istanbul for 8 years, speak the language, and loved this film. I’ve read plenty of the history, and it all checks out AFAIK. That Murat IV was one interesting dude.

    As for why this for Miller, the Battle of Gallipoli/Gelibolu (1915) is often regarded as the crucible from which 3 nations sprang: Australia, NZ, and modern Turkey. There have been various Aussie works about this (in fact, I was an extra in Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner,” as a British corporal guarding the British HQ, which the film hilariously wrongly portrays as being in the old palace). I suppose Miller wanted to engage artistically with that very different but deeply tied culture without making another war movie.

    I’d have to imagine that aside from the interracial woman/*genie romance, certain critics have been influenced the the whole complicated legacy of Edward Said’s “Orientalism,” the takeaway of which is generally reduced to “any Westerner artistically engaging with the east is, ipso facto, racist.”

    *People try to keep up with sensitive usage by writing djinn, which is wrong for a story like this, IMHO. The concept of the genie has been present in Western culture sooo long as to constitute part of our own brainspace. But this is the genie, a dude of smoke that comes out of a lamp and grants three wishes. Now a Djinn is another type of being in Islamic belief, mentioned in the Koran, etc… It’s a useful distinction to make, and Idris Elba is clearly playing a genie, not a djinn, in this movie.

  5. Call me a philistine, but I thought the ending wore out its welcome–it was a bit like if The Princess Bride kept going on about Peter Falk and Fred Savage hanging out for thirty-odd minutes–but everything before that was lovely. I wish Miller had come up with a way to stick the landing without belaboring his point, but I’m sure there are other people for whom the Djinn/Alithea stuff was the best part, so I’m glad they got that itch scratched, since there probably isn’t going to be another Tilda Swinton x Idris Elba romance at da movies.

  6. Thanks for the correction Stu, I guess I forgot some of the details as I took my time writing this review.

    Inspector Hammer – I don’t know about sensitivity, but he refers to himself and his people as Djinn over and over again throughout the movie and his character is only called “the Djinn,” including in the credits, so that’s what he is to me.

    Kaplan – The portrayal of the cops may or may not be a contemporary political statement, but actually seeing realistic cops on screen for once is a thrill that will unfortunately be timeless.

  7. What I took away from the film is that Alithea is someone very alone and tells herself she is content as such. But hearing all the forlorn tales of love (even though most end poorly) from The Djinn triggers something in her that makes her want love again—though she cannot get it from The Djinn because he isn’t free to do so. I have heard some people criticize this aspect as problematic but of course the movie knows it’s problematic and acknowledges that. I don’t think the film has a simple message—instead it’s wrestling with big questions about the need for companionship, love and stories and letting you stew on it. I found the ending lovely. And as great as Tilda is, I think the true MVP is Idris Elba. I love that the character isn’t a trickster but that means he is entirely emotional and sincere. It’s a deceptively difficult part to play and I think Elba absolutely crushes it, some of his best work. Really enjoyed this one.

  8. I enjoyed this but I did wish that Swinton & Elba had better sexual chemistry. I’m a little confounded that they didn’t because both of them can (and have played) sensualists before. This movie was smart and clever but could have benefitted from a little old-fashioned “I want to rip your clothes off” heat to warm it up in my opinion.

  9. Oh yeah, and that landing gear / luggage cart edit was impeccable.

  10. but could have benefitted from a little old-fashioned “I want to rip your clothes off” heat to warm it up in my opinion

    While you’re entitled to your opinion, personally, I think that’s sort of the antithesis of what the movie was going for.

    3000 Years of Longing (to get laid)

  11. If that’s the antithesis of what the movie was going for, then my opinion is that the movie was going for something less effective than it could have. A relationship that has intellectual *and* sexual chemistry, it seems to me, is both a stronger relationship and an easier relationship to invest in as a viewer than one that is only intellectual. Given that the movie is a relationship movie at its heart I simply don’t see the value of deliberately excluding an important aspect of what makes relationships work in real life and onscreen. But as you say, you’re entitled to your opinion.

  12. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    September 16th, 2022 at 11:35 am

    Sorry if I came off wrong, Vern. George Miller is following what seems to be accepted as best practices today. And you, diligently enough, follow his usage. Nice! I didn’t mention before how much joy it brought me to go to the theater and hear Turkish and watch this story. There aren’t many satisfactions to devoting thousands of hours to learning Turkish, especially after you leave the country, and getting things about the new George Miller film inaccessible to most was one for me, big time. I avoided learning much about the movie before going in, I knew blah blah Istanbul, but I hadn’t expected what I got. There wasn’t even any unexpected or hidden stuff that might change the movie, really. Of course, the Turkish was modern, not Ottoman, but even modern Turks would imagine a seraglio where they speak like today.

    But as far as the genie/djinn thing goes, I wasn’t trying to call you out or whatever. I do think, despite the evident good intentions, that GM using “djinn” instead of “genie” makes it a bit more, uh, appropriative. Not something I complain about, or am really here. Just suggestin’ a solution on this one.

  13. George Miller is a fucking treasure. I watched this a couple hours ago and I’m still buzzing; what a wonderful movie… complex, weird, and just plain lovely in every which sense.

    While I was watching it I was thinking something along the lines of “this is Before the Sunset crossed with with Henson’s Storyteller” but as the themes, concepts and stories kept intertwining it hit me that what it most reminded me of was Sandman. This is like a lost Sandman issue, a side-story like the ones Gaiman did every now and then. I do not deploy this comparation lightly, since the complete Sandman run is one of my all-time favorite pieces of literature.

    Still running it through in my mind. Aletheia (truth?) can only experience emotions through stories, and through the stories that the Djinn tells her she starts [SPOILERS!] feeling the need for something she didn’t even realize she lacked; she commits an evil, selfish act to force herself into loving and being loved, but even after realizing how fucked up that is she doesn’t dare undo it – but she still sacrifices it to do the next best option. Oh, and she never does bother to ask his name. He’s a tool to fill a void.
    And in the end she turns herself into a story.

    Djinns (and magic beings) being made of stories, narratives, being eroded by science (whose core assumption is that everything is chaos that is then affected by rules… not exactly the opposite of a narrative, but close enough.) And despite that, it feels celebratory, hopeful, with the Djinn delighted with the fruits of human achievement. I never expected to see something like that as an underlying element in a big-budget movie, much less see it treated this well.

    Vern, I love your takeaway from the ending.

    And the surfaces of this thing – the editing, how sounds transfer from one scene to the next, the effects, the music. The acting. So much care and love poured into every element.

    I need to see this with subtitles stat; I feel like I missed too much. I think it beats out Everything Everywhere as the year’s best for me.

  14. I adored this film. I am still processing it.

    I don’t get the controversy on race. It’s a film with a very multi-cultural base, where every culture is seen as flawed and developing painfully, where all cultures are treated as equal due to being made up of human desire and action. This is a film where the protagonists have problems and the idea of who is the power shifts due to these character flaws in both parties. The Djinn character has the magic gifts/curse and is imprisoned by the human flaws he encounters yet he is fascinated by them. Meanwhile the bearers of the wishes are imprisoned by the flaws in human character and desire for comfort, love, peace, knowledge and the difficulty of achieving that long-term. The best they can do is try and learn from the mistakes of the past, which is the touch of grace at the ending, of accepting your own flaws and limitations, and of making peace with it. This is what both characters do.

    While there are a variety of skin colours on display through-out, the commonality of human experience and flaws are what is important in this tale.

  15. I caught this on $3 cinema day, but it was the end of a long day filled with food and drink and walking around in the hot sun, so it’s already evaporating from my brain like a djinn under a cell tower.

    I will say it was visually lovely, but I didn’t “get” it. The gears did not click into place for me– but I am worried I’m not smart enough for this movie. I loved Walter Chaw’s piece on it as well, but I also worry I’m not smart enough even for his review. But I am up for revisiting it when my concentration is stronger.

    Justice 4 Sugarlumps.

  16. @Bill Thanks for that Chaw mention – It’s a lovely write up and has a ton of great points, but I think choosing to see this solely through the lens of appropriation feels a bit reductive.

    Then again, trying to collate my thoughts on this movie has made me realize that unlike Walter Chaw I’m definitely not smart enough for it; but it did click from the beginning and I love it to pieces. One thing I did realize is that besides The Sandman it also reminds me a lot of The Fountain (but much, much deeper.)

  17. As the son of immigrants, Chaw does bring a unique perspective specifically in how issues of race are dealt with in a film. Read his review of Bullet Train, it’s definitely a….different way of looking at what amounts to a David Leitch actioner in a train with Brad Pitt.

    Bullet Train (2022)

    */**** starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Sandra Bullock screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, based on the book by Kôtarô Isaka directed by David Leitch by Walter Chaw I have so many thoughts about David Leitch's Bullet Train, and I don't think a single one of them coheres with any of the other ones. This is most likely a product of general exhaustion, or a lifetime misspent on excess consumption of media colliding now in middle-age with my becoming somehow the go-to for Amer-Asian-splaining of representational issues in American cinema. Like the whole "whitewashing" thing going on around Bullet Train, which is based on a popular Japanese novel by Kôtarô Isaka, who is pleased people like Brad Pitt and Brian Tyree Henry are in this big-budget Hollywood adaptation because it raises his profile internationally. Sony Pictures, whose parent company is Japanese, has already come out saying the same stupid shit about how much they wanted to honour the Japanese source material by hiring the best actors for the project--who happen to be Not Japanese--while Asian-Americans are rightfully outraged about the same stupid shit because of how much damage this ingrained corporate "wisdom" continues to wreak on the Asian-American community. If...

  18. As for the movie (300 years of longing, that is)….mostly loved it. A gorgeous looking movie and I certainly didn’t expect the director of one of the best action movies to hit my eyeballs in the last decade to get me hooked on Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton essentially spending more than half the movie just talking in a hotel room in white bath robes. It does go a little off the rails in the last half hour though. Not a deal-breaker, but a pretty rough landing after an amazing, fantasy-fueled flight into Arabian Nights-style story-telling.

  19. No disrespect to Walter Chaw – the thanks to Bill for the recommendation were sincere. I’ve been reading back through his stuff and he’s entertaining, thoughtful, insightful and, as you say, brings up points that would have never occurred to me. I’ll keep him in the rotation.

    His comments on 3000YoL have definitely colored my opinion and added things to consider. But while he’s obviously free to interpret the movie strictly according to that filter – as those are his preoccupations and the way it struck him, I think the movie is richer than what that one article portrays (which is not necessarily his whole opinion on it is, of course.)

  20. I randomly stumbled across this movie looking for something to watch and I’m SO glad I did. I was completely enthralled from start to finish, as Tilda Swinton is an excellent actress and her time as the White Witch in Narnia lets her be perfect for this. WHO DOESN’T LOVE IDRIS?!?!*chefs kiss* You and a few others perfectly summized how he expertly embodied this role. I LOVE a good story and this one was told so eloquenlty( to ME ). I went to IMDB to look up the movie and the reviews were so average, I didn’t agree! Vern Im happy I went looking for more thoughts on this movie and stumbled across your review, because I feel the same way. This movie was truly magical!

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>