‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ Movie Review: George Miller’s Fantastical Romance With Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton

Three Thousand Years of Longing is filmmaker George Miller’s first return behind the camera since 2015’s Oscar-winning stunner Mad Max: Fury Road. However, this time he sought to craft a more intimate epic based on A.S. Byatt’s short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.” The movie stars a knock-out duo with Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, carrying an entertaining, albeit faulty love story.

'Three Thousand Years of Longing' 3 star review graphic

‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ emphasizes the importance of storytelling

'Three Thousand Years of Longing' Tilda Swinton as Alithea and Idris Elba as The Djinn sitting next to each other on the couch side-eyeing each other with a bookcase behind them
L-R: Tilda Swinton as Alithea and Idris Elba as The Djinn | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Alithea (Swinton) is a scholar on a work trip to Istanbul. However, she immediately begins to experience seemingly supernatural events as soon as she plants a foot in the country. Along the way, Alithea purchases a damaged artifact at a shop as a souvenir, but she doesn’t realize that it’s about to change her life forever.

Three Thousand Years of Longing finds the scholar encountering a Djinn (Elba), who now relies on her to ask for three wishes to free him from a long imprisonment. Doubt and suspicion cloud Alithea’s mind, who believes that he’s an evil trickster spirit, launching the pair down a fateful journey that is as much about their pasts as it is their future.

Writer/director George Miller fantasizes about a romance between lonely, lost souls

The story of Three Thousand Years of Longing is housed in a fairy tale vehicle, allowing for it to explore fantastical places with ease. Alithea speaks on narratology, placing the importance of narrative structure at the forefront. The scholar makes it known to the audience that she’s alone by choice and claims to be happier for it. The fairy tale story structure paints an intriguing picture of wonder and magic.

The Djinn makes it clear that he will only grant strictly three wishes, so unlimited wishes are off the table. Additionally, he cannot end world suffering or offer immortality because it goes against the “nature of things.” However, Alithea’s nature doesn’t want to wish for anything, having insight into stories about genies. She’s convinced that he’s actually a trickster, where wishes always end in misfortune.

Three Thousand Years of Longing looks to the past to inform its future. Alithea has a grander imagination than one would imagine at first glance with the memory of an imaginary friend named Enzo. She calls into question what’s real, intertwining her own logic with the impossible situation that she finds herself in. Alithea and the Djinn awaken a side of one another that was long since dormant, thrusting two lonely souls into a situation where they are each other’s only hope.

‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ is uneven, epic storytelling

'Three Thousand Years of Longing' Tilda Swinton as Alithea and Idris Elba as The Djinn in a hoodie with Swinton's hand on his cheek
L-R: Tilda Swinton as Alithea and Idris Elba as The Djinn | Elise Lockwood/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Three Thousand Years of Longing is certainly epic in scale, stretching far across the history of humanity. Miller takes full advantage of that with Roger Ford’s gorgeous production design and John Seale’s lush cinematography. Mad Max: Fury Road composer Junkie XL makes a grand collaborative return with Miller, delivering an imposing score. Some of the more ambitious CGI is a tad underwhelming, but its sound design is all-encompassing and all-consuming in the best way possible.

Elba and Swinton are rightfully some of the industry’s most respectable actors, and they showcase that in Miller’s epic. However, they’re more impressive when viewed as independent performances. Elba and Swinton effortlessly weave loneliness and longing into their characters, even when it lurks far beneath the surface. In a love story such as this, the romance needs to be believable, yet Elba and Swinton’s chemistry is lacking here.

This fairy tale finds its characters discovering feelings through the use of stories. Their yearning for freedom and absolution is felt in every frame of Miller’s epic, although it could have pushed itself further. The narratives of both the past and the present feel fragmented and alienated from one another, resulting in an incohesive story. Three Thousand Years of Longing is a rambling fairy tale about the importance of storytelling that visually arrests, even when its romance doesn’t quite swoon as it should.

Three Thousand Years of Longing lands in theaters on Aug. 26.

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