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three thousand years of longing


starring: idris elba, tilda swinton, aamito lagum, and nicholas mouawad


REVIEWER: nick tonkin

A lonely scholar, on a trip to Istanbul, discovers a Djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

George Miller is undoubtedly a versatile and unpredictable talent, and depending on one’s age, known to audiences most as the director of either the Mad Max film series with Mel Gibson, the 90’s family fantasy Babe movies or the Happy Feet titles from the 2000’s.


The contrast here within the director’s body of work is interesting itself without even considering the revivifying force that 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road brought to action cinema. Now, in his first directorial work since Fury Road, Miller turns the volume down in favour of subtlety and creative expression in the surreal fantasy drama Three Thousand Years of Longing


The film is led by Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, with Swinton playing Alithea Binnie, a lonely literary scholar, whose nature and interests seem to preclude her from developing strong emotional bonds with others. Elba plays a Djinn (a genie) released from his bottle, bound to provide Alithea with three wishes in exchange for his freedom.


The film considerately explores each of the characters through the stories they tell each other of their lives; The Djinn’s tales of how he became trapped in a bottle three times in three thousand years, and Alithea, her recollections of the course her life has taken and how she has persevered and overcome pain, to a place of acceptance and comfort. We only know of them what they choose to tell each other, and both of them are as much at the mercy of the other as the narrator of their own story as we the audience are. 

Can Alithea trust that the Djinn is recounting his stories as they really occurred, or is he telling her what he imagines she wants to hear, in an effort to coax one more wish from her? Is Alithea manipulating the Djinn for her own ends, or is she suffering from a protracted, all encompassing delusion that developed to satiate the longing that she had long since given up on fulfilling? 


Three Thousand Years of Longing’s success is in the wonderful way it combines introspective conversation and the fantastic visuals of the recollections of the Djinn from his past lives. The film thankfully avoids excess garishness, and neither does it slip too far into surrealism to alienate the audience or obfuscate from its intentions.


Swinton and Elba are both excellent, each creating characters that feel genuine and surprisingly relatable, especially since one of them is a genie. The film isn’t perfect, Alithea’s choices at a certain point feel guided by plot rather than her character and there are a few moments where the CGI is a bit spotty, but as a whole Three Thousand Years of Longing is a charming and affecting work, showing once again that director/writer George Miller is a singular talent. The film is a gem and I hope people go and experience it for themselves.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is a gem of a film, charming and affecting, showing once again that director/writer George Miller is a singular talent. 


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