George Miller returns to the big screen for the first time since Mad Max: Fury Road with a much less action-heavy and much more story-driven film. In fact, the movie is literally a story about stories. Three Thousand Years of Longing is a refreshing fairy tale about the perils of human achievement and the role of myth in modern society.
Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is a narratologist who spends her time researching stories and telling them around the globe. She prefers spending time with the things that populate her own mind rather than making any lasting human connections. When she is visited by a Djinn (Idris Elba), she is hard-pressed to come up with any wishes. As such, Djinn describes the last three thousand years of his life trapped in and out of a bottle in hopes of unlocking her heart’s hidden desires. The rest of the narrative plays out like an anthology of stories about love and betrayal throughout human history.
All taking place largely inside Alithea’s hotel room, the film runs the risk of feeling like a bottle episode of a sitcom. However, Miller expertly uses extensive and visually striking flashback sequences over Djinn’s commentary. There’s a sense of temporal scale that truly lives up to the film’s name. I could sit in a theater for hours and listen to Elba’s soothing voice as he recounts his many encounters with love.
There’s a question raised early on by Alithea that permeates the rest of Three Thousand Years of Longing. If ancient myths were created to explain life’s greatest mysteries, then what purpose do they serve in a world where modern science exists? Real magic has no place in our world. We have everything we could ever want at the touch of a button. What could we possibly wish for that could give us more?
Djinn’s stories range from historical retellings of the Queen of Sheba and Suleiman the Magnificent to his own intimate relationships with power-hungry women. They are amusing, action-fueled, and depressing, but above all, they remind us of the importance of stories: human desires. Humans all desire for entertainment. But more than that, we desire to love and be loved. Even when we push each other away and burn bridges, love is always the answer. It’s cheesy on paper, sure. But Miller delicately weaves it throughout the narrative until it culminates in the bombastic union of Alithea and Djinn.
The last portion of the film settles into a more contemporary setting. It’s certainly not as interesting as Djinn’s stories. However, it functions to bring those stories into conversation with the world as we know it today. In a landscape of movies that feel so cynical about the human race, it’s refreshing to see one that marvels at the achievements of modern civilization instead of bashing it. While we might turn against each other in times of crisis, we often come out of it stronger than we were before. Despite all this positivity, the film understands that ancient myths truly are losing their importance in our society. It is our job to hold on to the past while looking forward to the future.
Three Thousand Years of Longing can be inconsistent in its storytelling. All that being said, it is a wholly unique and entertaining Hollywood blockbuster. I suggest you find the biggest screen possible to truly absorb this beautiful film. Keep an eye out for it when it releases in cinemas later this year. – Caleb Sadd
Three Thousand Years of Longing premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It will release in theaters on Friday, August 31, 2022.