Three Thousand Years of Longing
George Miller’s newest is an ambitious tale whose third act fails to nail the landing
Many filmmakers can claim to be versatile, but none can top George Miller’s ability to flit between wildly different genres. This is the man behind such disparate films as Mad Max (1979), Happy Feet (2006), and The Witches of Eastwick (1987). It is therefore always thrilling to see what the Australian director will serve us next; this year it has come in the shape of his most ambitious project yet: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022).
Three Thousand Years of Longing is the story of a Djinn (Idris Elba), who is released by a narrative studies professor named Alithea (Tilda Swinton) from his lamp, and with her he recounts his journey through three tales spanning 3,000 years of different owners.
Miller can’t be faulted for not being ambitious. From his first punk-rebellious Mad Max to his daredevil action sequel Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), his feminist take on witchcraft in Witches of Eastwick, and his fascination with animal tales in Happy Feet and Babe (1995). With Three Thousand Years of Solitude, Miller seeks to show the life of a djinn, and its adventures throughout history. He seeks to explore this story through the exploration of narrative, how it feeds into humanity’s fascination with stories, our thirst and hunger for them. Miller no doubt takes great inspiration with the mythical fables of Arabic legend and even those featured in “One thousand one Arabian Nights.” It is with this playfulness around what stories mean, how they feed into an innate imagination within us, and amongst our necessity to use stories to make sense of emotions and the unknown that the film shines best. Miller uses the curious meta aspects of storytelling by having us viewers witness a story about storytellers telling a story about the power of stories (drink for every time you read the word “story” in that sentence).
Miller ambitiously takes us through time-jumping sequences featuring gods of antiquity and other historical figures. It is through this history of the Djinn that the film best shines, as Elba is narrating his historical tragic plight to an agape Alithea. There is an intriguing build up that somehow balances the plot elements of the film with its more metaphorical takes. However, as the third act begins, the cracks in the film begin to appear, as you sense Miller doesn’t know quite how to move his story forward or to a safe harbor. This results in a final act that fizzles out in emotional and symbolic power. This sadly has Three Thousand Years of Longing leaving a rather wispy hold on your imagination as the credits roll.
The key to the final act rests on a romance between two characters. This is executed in a sloppy and ineffective way. For one there is an abrupt rush into declarations of love that surprises viewers for its speediness. Another misstep in the film is a lack of chemistry between these two characters, which makes the romantic story that encompasses the finale a completely unconvincing one. With the resolution resting on the gut-punch that this love story is to bring; this makes the ending of Three Thousand Years of Longing become more of a whimper than a cri-du-coeur.
Miller does bring his meticulous attention to visual detail to Three Thousand Years of Longing, crafting frames that feel transported directly from an ancient tapestry or medieval book. His use of color in the three tales that the Djinn recounts from his past is truly invigorating, and makes you feel as if you’ve been dipped in a fairytale. The fantastic work done with director of photography John Seale (who came out of retirement just for this film) helps imbue each frame with a fluid veil of magic that allures viewers to this cinematic world. Likewise, the score composed by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) is an infectiously catchy one, specifically a beautifully sweeping romantic theme that sent goosebumps down my back. These artistic pieces put together under Miller’s watchful eye helps create a beautiful setting for his story to play out in. Sadly, all films rely on a strong story to anchor them down, no matter their other resulting elements.
Curiously, for a film fascinated with the importance and power of storytelling, it is in Three Thousand Years of Longing’s plot elements that it falters. A rather incongruous final act along with a lack of chemistry and rushed execution of a key relationship leads to a deflated finale that punctures the brilliant set up and construction of Miller’s ambition. Hopefully, Miller won’t become too discouraged and will continue to push himself forward into new and unpredictable narrative worlds.