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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Three Thousand Years of Longing: Review

Three Thousand Years of Longing Synopsis: On a trip to Istanbul, a lonely scholar (Tilda Swinton) discovers a Djinn (Idris Elba) who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. Based upon the short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S Byatt.

A professor of literature and lore discovers the magic presence of a wish-granting Djinn in Three Thousand Years of Longing. For writer/director George Miller, Longing represents another inventive shift towards a new sensibility. The auteur previously ignited the grunge, thrill-seeking bombast of the Mad Max franchise before winning an Oscar for his wholesome family feature Happy Feet.

Seven years after Miller struck gold with the seminal actioner Mad Max: Fury Road, the writer/director embarks on an intriguing recontextualization of familiar fairy tale tropes with Longing. Part intimate drama, part anthology of fable-esque fantasy, the film symbolizes an ambitious swing at the plate for Miller. Even if all the pieces don’t quite come together, Three Thousand Years of Longing registers an invigorating blend of imagination and intellect.

A well-matched pair of movie stars helps tremendously in setting the stage. Tilda Swinton effectively conveys the book smart neurosis of her timid scholar protagonist Alithea while ensuring that the character’s quirks never overshadow her inner insecurities. Idris Elba also elicits intrigue and an oppressive sense of yearning as the Djinn stuck in an endless cycle of possessive captors. Both actors connect effectively onscreen as they develop a bond forged by untraditional circumstances.

With his modernist take on the owner vs. servant fantasy trope, Miller’s electric presence behind the camera radiates in full force. The director lets his inventive voice shine throughout with swooping camera movements, dynamic color pallets, and a plethora of out-of-the-box visual creations. Thankfully, the stylistic quirks always feel well-integrated within the narrative experience. Each frame of wistful fantasy helps accent a macabre atmosphere as the characters slowly dig into Djinn’s century-old crusade for freedom.

I also applaud Miller for creating a distinctive sandbox brimming with dynamism around every corner. In a Hollywood landscape where fantasy narratives are exclusively aimed at family or blockbuster audiences, Miller’s stylish visual bend conjures a surrealist vision enriched by its endearing eccentricities, Some of his visual and narrative choices may alienate more traditional audiences, but I am glad Miller crafts a film that unabashedly swims against the industry’s conformist trends.

My praise aside, I can see where viewers’ mixed reception derives from. Three Thousand Years of Longing carries some glaring imperfections. Miller and co-screenwriter Augusta Gore ambitiously try to piece together the source material’s respective arcs and its undercurrent of intriguing observations. Unfortunately, the pie-in-the-sky vision never receives the gravity it desperately seeks.

Ruminations on humanity seeking solace in mythmaking and the exploitation of an enslaved victim are noteworthy on paper – they just struggle to connect cohesively on the screen. The lack of meaningful substance or emotional core keeps the viewer out of lockstep with Longing’s noble pursuits at times. Additionally, the screenplay generates moments of didactic clunkiness as it misguidingly spells out its grand aspirations. I wish the script trusted the evocative imagery to carry the thematic weight rather than speaking down to its audience. It all culminates in a finale that falls flat in its wayward attempts to evolve the characters.

Three Thousand Years of Longing endures a roller coaster ride during its uneven run time. That said, I appreciate the infectiously inventive spirit on display here. Longing ultimately redefines fantasy lore in a bold and surprisingly reflective genre switch-up.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is now playing in theaters.


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