We Exist Only if We Are Real to Others: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) - Reviewed


If one were to guess what George Miller would create to follow up his 2015 megahit Mad Max: Fury Road, a sexy romance anthology film about a relationship between a Djinn and woman probably would not be high on that list. Miller is a diverse director, however, oscillating between epic and gritty action films and wholesome family affairs so it's not difficult to accept his indulgences. Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) feels like a passion project from Miller, and even though it has a few missteps along the way, its heart is in the right place.

The narrative follows Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), an introverted bookish professor of literature, who travels the world seeking out new experiences. While on a trip to Istanbul to speak at a conference, she finds a beautiful glass bottle at a shop. Upon returning to her hotel room, she attempts to clean the dirt off the glass and to her surprise a Djinn (Idris Elba) pours out and materializes in her room. The Djinn offers her three wishes, almost anything her heart desires, but Alithea has heard this story before and is wary of the unintended consequences of having her desires granted.

This film is structured similarly to One Thousand and One Nights with the framing story of the Djinn and Alithea bookending several tales anthology style. It takes about twenty minutes for the film to find its footing, but once the storytelling begins in earnest, it becomes captivating. Alithea and the Djinn hang out in the hotel room in fluffy white robes, exuding a comfortable atmosphere, almost as if Miller has tucked the audience into their comforters to hear bedtime stories. As with all anthologies, some segments will resonate more than others depending on personal taste, which will most likely make the film feel uneven. Each tale is full of magic, intrigue, sex, and occasionally violence, and the fast pacing of the development hampers the impact somewhat.

Storytelling is as old as humanity, and Three Thousand Years of Longing is an exploration of how we use these stories to make sense of the human condition and express difficult emotions. Alithea and the Djinn's interactions are the most compelling aspect of the film, and it doesn't get fully explored until the final act. Certain aspects of their relationship dip into uncomfortable conversations about body autonomy and consent, especially when wish granting is involved, but the writing is self aware of the subtext and addresses it head on. Idris is very alluring as the Djinn, sensual and at times a little frightening, and towards the end of the film when he becomes more vulnerable he handles the tone change expertly. Tilda is assured and slightly neurotic, as she tries to navigate through the world of wish fulfillment and eventually love.

Visually, Miller doesn't skimp on spectacle and fantasy, with exotic set-pieces and fantastic costuming. There is a surprising amount of sexuality on display, as the Djinn's anecdotes all involve him falling onto love/lust with his "masters" and it falling apart spectacularly. As an aside, this is one of the few recent blockbuster films I have seen that acknowledges that COVID happened, as it has some people in the background casually wearing masks while in stores or at lectures. It is interesting that so few films are willing to incorporate this aspect into their universe when it's been a way of life for two years now.

Some of the elements of this film don't work and the pacing feels a bit too fast even though the runtime clocks in at almost two hours. These small quibbles aside though, Miller has crafted an enthralling collection of tales and a poignant love story that will captivate those who are willing to let themselves be swept up in his daydreams. 

--Michelle Kisner