Imagine, if you will and for just a moment, that you were in Turkey, set to lecture an audience, when suddenly you’re accosted by a stout, ungainly creature, staring at you as if you are a key to unfolding a universe you’re unaware. Beginning in this fashion is how George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing opens for the scholarly Alithea Binne, played with great integrity by Tilda Swinton.
Based on A. S. Ryan’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, Miller and co-writer Augusta Gore set out to tell a tale of a straightforward individual who is content with her life. Often, we’re unaware of our own needs, having stuffed them into the recesses of our minds to live an orderly, simple life. That sums up Alithea at the start of the film. Through experience, though, we know differently. Yet, Miller portends that we are, all of us, Alithea. We just haven’t been exposed to external forces that elevate the senses.
Swirling into Alithea’s life is someone full of experiences and isolation, given a very long time to think about his life, the Djinn, played exceptionally well by Idris Elba. The Djinn has been trapped in a magic lamp for three thousand years. Miller and Gore take the time to share his exploits as Elba and Swinton are staged in an Istanbul hotel room. The room is bright, airy, and cheerful; a peculiar setting for such a dramatically told story, however, with purpose as Alithea releases the Djinn for which he offers three wishes. Elba is very commanding in the retelling of his adventures. He’s also very intoxicating as Alithea questions him at every turn, not believing what’s in front of her.
Three Thousand Years of Longing has more to do with our need to be connected with other humans on an intrinsic level. Miller and Gore don’t intentionally bury these needs within the story; however, contextually, we’re left to search for the meaning, part of their script’s brilliance. For their roles, Swinton and Elba are convincing within their subtleties, allowing other aspects of the film to convey emotion and story.
John Seale’s cinematography is as essential to the story as the acting is. Again, Miller tells the tale subtly from a fantastical point of view. He allows his actors and creative team to use their physical and mental confines and effects to broadly paint isolation and openness strokes, mainly where Seale was concerned. Margaret Sixel’s editing is also on point. The story film does luxuriate within its confines, allowing us to spend more time with Elba and Swinton while conveying the nuances inherent in the characters and their surroundings. Three Thousand Years of Longing is assertive in its themes of isolation, thoughts, relationships, emotions, choices, and consequences of those choices. Miller delicately balances the choices the characters make with the effects.
Aside from the look and feel of Three Thousand Years of Longing, Tom Holkenborg brings a lush score underpinning the film’s themes. The score contextualizes that which we don’t actively think about – longing.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often thought of experiences similar to those I had during my childhood or those I knew I wanted but didn’t. Think about that statement for a moment. The words seeking and similar are essential as we mentally connect with something we once had or something we wished that we had. The emotion of longing is not something the human brain actively thinks about. We might seek connection with others and, out of that connection, desire. But longing is something completely different. I don’t long for ice cream, but I do desire it. Will I have it? No; desire is an active response to stimuli; longing is not. Life is complex. Within, George Miller has given us a variety of stories over the years in many genres. He is most known for Mad Max, but he’s also been able to reach into other worlds and experiences and draw lines for and about humanity.
Three Thousand Years of Longing might not be big, bold, or bombastic. The tagline from the trailer proudly proclaims, “From the Mad Genius of George Miller.” Three Thousand Years of Longing is gorgeous to behold and will challenge you to think in new directions if you allow it. Life happens when we least expect it, and George Miller, Idris Elba, and Tilda Swinton have given us but one glimpse. And, if we allow it in, there is a lot to unpack.
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