It has been seven years since George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and while that break certainly had the filmmaker’s fans longing for a new film, Miller himself has described Three Thousand Years of Longing as the “anti-Mad Max,” telling the story of an academic, played by Tilda Swinton, meeting a mythical genie, played by Idris Elba.
Dr. Alithea Binnie (Swinton) is a relatively quiet, solitary narratologist from London, studying stories through the age and how they impact human perception. While in Istanbul for a conference, she acquires a bottle from the Turkish bazaar, and as she tries to clean it in her hotel room, she unleashes the ancient djinn (Elba), who insists that she makes three wishes for her heart’s desires in exchange for his freedom. Binnie is instantly against the request, particularly aware of all the tales of wishes gone wrong, and claims she longs for nothing.
“There is no story about wishing that is not a cautionary tale,” she says in the film.
That prompts the djinn to tell Binnie stories from his extensive past in an effort to sway her into making three wishes, including the djinn's encounters with The Queen of Sheba, the court of Suleiman the Magnificent and a genius woman in Zefir, setting up that he is also “too fond” of women’s company.
At the outset, there is something completely charming and delightful watching the discussions between Binnie and the djinn while they both wear plush white hotel bathrobes.
Based on the A.S. Byatt’s short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” Miller, along with co-writer and daughter Augusta Gore, have certainly revamped the "genie in a bottle" stories we know, most notably a story like Aladdin. At the crux of this film is a narrative about the power of stories themselves, an existential inspection of storytelling and human connection to stories.
Illusions and fantasy is where Miller’s visual style and imagination shine during flashback sequences of the djinn’s stories over 3,000 years, as odd as they may seem to some, but these interweaving themes, concepts and timelines may have been too much for one 108 minute film.
What comes through is that Miller is certainly throwing out interesting questions, bundled up with creative visual moments, and Swinton and Elba both deliver compelling performance, as we would expect.
In the final moments of the film, when Binnie takes the djinn back to London with her to navigate the modern world together, it's a tender part of the narrative, but comes across as a bit muted in the clutter of the story, and maybe we don't feel strongly enough about the relationship between these two characters.
So far for its opening weekend, Three Thousand Years of Longing couldn't compete with Jessica M. Thompson's vampire horror The Invitation, but with Miller at the helm, the film is sure to find its audience before he comes back to us with Furiosa.