The visionary scope of director George Miller has long been one of the most unique and original in all of cinema. As his latest film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” proves, the filmmaker has not and will never lose his touch.
In a dreadful year (decade?) for films, Miller has gifted audiences with an original, entrancing, and ultimately moving tale of life and love; a picture that holds great beauty and inventive spectacle, but also reaches the viewer on deeper emotional levels than films of this ilk usually allow.
Tilda Swinton is Alithea Binnie, a professor of Narratology who attends a conference in Istanbul as part of a conference about the meaning behind generational fairy tales. In her work, she is discovering that real science may be behind the tales and myths of old. For Alithea, there is nothing magical to be found.
A divorcée who is complacent with her life, Alithea immerses herself with work and the travel that comes with it. The character is a bubble of solitude. There is love and real emotion there, but (in her way of thinking) she has tried that, and it didn’t work. The universe was against her, and reality darkened her storybook idea on life. Better to move on and not put herself too much into the world.
While killing time after the conference, Alithea finds a strange-looking glass bottle and is overcome with the desire to buy it, taking it back to her hotel room.
While cleaning it, a djinn (Idris Elba) is released. After an exchange in a native language, the djinn settles into English to better communicate, laying down the rules of his presence.
He is bound to grant her three wishes, but she must first listen to his tales and there is to be no declining. Alithea has no choice. If she refuses to make wishes that come straight from her heart, Elba’s character will be banished forever into the nothingness of nowhere. But is he a trickster? Alithea can’t be sure. Each of them must prove themselves to the other.
Sad and beautiful tales telling of the djinn’s past 3,000 years commence, as he provides cautionary stories of previous wishers’ fates.
It is in these memories where Miller and his Art Directors Nicholas Dare and Sophie Nash (along with Production Designer Roger Ford) give the film its grand scale.
For each of the djinn’s tales, the use of CGI does what it was created for; helping the filmmakers add to the imaginative practical designs while never overcoming the intimacy of the piece.
Truly, this picture holds jaw-dropping moments of beauty. Cinematographer John Seale has come out of his semi-retirement yet again (both times for Miller) to capture these images and guide the look of the film.
Seale’s shots are masterfully framed, his camera close and personal when it needs to be, then wide and in motion as the djinn’s stories blossom into stunning ocular delights. There is a symmetry to the freedom of both Miller’s filmmaking style and Seale’s camerawork that makes this film breathe life.
The screenplay, (by Miller and his daughter Augusta Gore and based on a short story by A.S. Byatt) has fun but paints the story with rightful sincerity. For the film’s characters, there is a struggle over the narrative of one’s life and who decides how it will be written over the passing of time.
Alithea decides it is best to tell her encounter with the djinn as a fairy tale in the hope that “a little bit of sugar” will indeed help it all go down easier.
Swinton is marvelous at capturing the longing her character refuses to acknowledge. The failure of Alithea’s marriage (and the tragedy that may have been a catalyst) are boxed away on a shelf, as her secret need for human connection is safely tucked away beneath her guarded persona.
As Alithea, Swinton is smart and revealing, finding one of her better roles in some time.
Idris Elba is a great character actor who usually needs guidance in choosing which script to take on, as his film choices have been spotty at best. Thanks to a great screenplay, the actor proves how great he can be.
As he spins his tales, the djinn helps Alithea remember the power of love and the aching loneliness without it. The actor never once goes over the top, exuding a soulful and compassionate energy combined with a peaceful naturalism. It would be nice for the Academy to remember his strong work come Oscar season, as this could be his most complete and honest performance since playing “Stringer Bell” on HBO’s “The Wire”.
As he did for “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) compliments every scene and emotion through his orchestral compositions. Where his work for “Mad Max: Fury Road” film was a hard-edged, drum-heavy, battle cry, his score for this film is lush and beautiful, capturing the sounds and musical styles of the ancient cultures found within the djinn’s tales.
If there is one constant to the films of George Miller, it is the energy that he brings to each one. As much as his Mad Max pictures are riveting in their action, the filmmaker brings the same unrestrained energy and imagination to this picture.
There is not a moment wasted as Miller is constantly captivating his audience through the emotions of the text and his fertile imagination as a director. While he plays with our senses, a kind and affecting story sneaks into our hearts.
Miller’s first film in seven years is something very special. This is a remarkably moving story about storytelling itself, and one that speaks to the longing we may all be afraid to speak aloud.
Through his undeniable passion for filmmaking George Miller has created a passionately adult fairy tale that captures the magic of myth and the beating heart of the human spirit.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” speaks to us all and leaves no emotion untapped.
As with life, it is all here. Love and fate and the whole damned thing.
Three Thousand Years of Longing
Written by George Miller & Augusta Gore (based on the short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt
Directed by George Miller
Starring Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba
R, 104 Minutes, Kennedy Miller Productions/ MGM