Three Thousand Years of Longing

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In Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) filmmaker George Miller indulges in sexual tourism and orientalism to adapt A.S. Byatt’s short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. Miller’s investigation into spectatorship within the confines of Byatt’s narrative is equally a strength and a weakness in the film. As much as Miller is willing to go to great lengths to locate the loneliness of his characters as well as the isolation inherent to spectatorship, he never really finds the emotional core of the piece.

Tilda Swinton plays the middle aged narratologist Alithea Binnie who releases a Djinn (Idris Elba) from his imprisonment in a bottle. Both actors give very strong performances in their respective parts but they still cannot conjure the kind of sexual energy needed to make their relationship sparkle. In the film the relationship between Alithea and Djinn is one of camaraderie than romance. While this doesn’t undo the picture it does render Miller’s sentimentality at the close of the film as little more than a hallow gesture.

The true strength of Three Thousand Years of Longing is the visual virtuosity of Miller’s imagination and the complex of human truth beneath the subtext of the film’s intertextuality with both other pictures as well as other works of literature. The film seems to live and breathe within the Djinn’s romantic tales of the past. Miller cross references Shakespeare with One Thousand and One Nights while simultaneously finding visual intersections between The Thief Of Bagdad (1940) and Arabian Nights (1974). All of this successfully evokes the universality of the human need for love of one kind or another.

Miller’s filmography can essentially be broken up into those films that see only the failings in mankind and those that believe in the power of the human spirit. Three Thousand Years of Longing firmly belongs to the latter alongside Babe 2: Pig In The City (1998) while the more cynical films are Miller’s immensely popular Mad Max movies. I prefer Miller as a romantic. His films take on a kind of dreamy quality as he lets his imagination run wild with just the smallest idea for an image. Even though Three Thousand Years of Longing is uneven or not entirely effective at what it sets out to do it is still invaluable as a document of a filmmaker daring to dream without inhibition.