New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Three Thousand Years of Longing

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If I were George Miller, I would’ve waited too. After putting out the action movie of the decade, I would’ve coasted for a while too, probably a tad scared to follow up a masterpiece. Three Thousand Years of Longing is another zag from Miller, who’s made a career out of zagging when people expect him to zig. But hey, if you want some real wish fulfillment, might as well build your movie around the concept, right?

Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is a reclusive British scholar/researcher, content to give speeches and deal with the weird visions she gets occasionally in her own way. After touring an Istanbul market, Alithea buys an antique bottle that catches her eye. After cleaning it with an electric toothbrush, Alithea opens it to find a Djinn (Idris Elba) inside. The Djinn tells Alithea that she has 3 wishes of her hearts desires. Alithea while surprised, is also very logical, and asks the Djinn about how he ended up with her so she can decide if he’s a trickster or not.

So the Djinn recounts his past lives, taking Alithea on an amazing, epic journey. Miller’s ambition is pretty high, hoping to find deep resonant themes through the Djinn’s relationships. With each tale, we dig deeper into Alithea and the Djinn, showing how metaphorical and literal prisons can form inside a person, and how they can be broken down and overcome. Also, stories of love are seen to literally be tales as old as time, with Miller giving us various ways someone can love someone else. Miller’s reach exceeds his grasp, but the journey is really a delight, giving us interesting historical touchpoints and fascinating looks into how love manifests in different ways: sexual, mental, physical, etc.

When the Djinn’s stories stop, Three Thousand Years at times lives up to its title. Similar to Return of the King, there are 30ish endings, but unlike LOTR, it doesn’t have 3 movies of history to earn that coda. It rushes an hour plus of story into like 20 minutes, giving us the highlights of Alithea and the Djinn’s relationship, but not earning the revelations the characters reach by the end of the movie. Swinton and Elba, capable acting champs, do the best they can to sell their relationship, but the truncated story betrays them a lot. A two part movie might have been better, or a mini series, to convey Miller’s epic story of the nature of love and connection, but Miller and his acting badasses do the best they can with the time they are given, to land the LOTR plane.

I wonder what George Miller would have wished for if he had 3 wishes? He definitely felt the Djinn’s 30 years of longing between Mad Max films. But you know what? That led to the incredible Fury Road. Maybe he wished he could live out that longing in shorter bursts, to allow his creativity to flourish in time for the Furiosa prequel he’s making in a year or two.

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