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An Existential Fairy Tale 

Magic remains in "Three Thousand Years of Longing"

Here's the thing about movies: they don't have to be perfect. Very few of them are. And just because a movie has a bad performance, an uneven script or some aspect that isn't as good as the next doesn't mean the film is a failure—especially when that film has the ambition and the talent behind it to be something really special or, more importantly, original. Sometimes when you aim for the stars you only graze the clouds, but that's still pretty high up there.

click to enlarge Another gorgeously composed shot from director George Miller - PHOTO COURTESY OF FILM NATION
  • Photo courtesy of Film Nation
  • Another gorgeously composed shot from director George Miller

It might seem like I'm pretty easy on most movies, which on some level I am, but I also watch a ton of absolute trash that I don't have the time or column inches to write about. It's almost a miracle when a film actually gets made, because so many things have to come together and so many different people have to combine their differing artistic styles into one coherent vision. I'm still uncynical about most movies, so there's no reason to be overly brutal when discussing bad or even just flawed ones.

"Three Thousand Years of Longing" isn't a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I kinda love it anyway. The film's flaws are sometimes just as gorgeous as the moments that work because director/auteur George Miller is nothing if not an audacious and abundantly ambitious filmmaker. The 77-year-old filmmaker is responsible for the most visually stunning action movie of the century so far, with "Mad Max: Fury Road," and he takes that relentlessly inventive drive to innovate and applies it to a story that doesn't have the same emotional heft as his earlier work. Across his 50+ years of filmmaking (and almost singlehandedly creating a film industry in Australia), he has made four "Mad Max" movies, two "Babe" movies, two "Happy Feet" movies, "The Witches of Eastwick," "Lorenzo's Oil" and a segment of the 1983 "Twilight Zone" movie. The man follows his muse and offers no apologies or explanations.

"Three Thousand Years of Longing" tells a deceptively simple story about Alithea Binnie (performed by the always amazing Tilda Swinton, downplaying her usual otherworldliness) a solitary scholar whose expertise is "Narrativeology," basically the study of stories. While at a bazaar in Istanbul, she purchases an antique bottle and then eventually unleashes an ancient djinn (played by an excellent Idris Elba) once back in her hotel room, who offers her three wishes of her heart's desire. The rest of the film is a discussion between Alithea and the djinn about the nature of stories and whether anyone can trust the concept of three wishes when throughout all of history it never seems to go well for the person making the wishes.

Structurally, it's a fascinating gambit because we've got a huge chunk of the movie that plays as a debate between a scholar and a djinn inside a fairly nondescript hotel room. A feature-length conversation isn't the most stimulating thing visually, but their chat is constantly countered with flashbacks to the story of how the djinn became trapped in the bottle, and Miller uses every cinematic trick in the book to make those sequences jaw-droppingly cool. Ultimately, the film is incredibly varied in its tones, textures and styles while being very fun to look at, but the emotional weight just isn't there.

"Three Thousand Years of Longing" sinks or swims on the chemistry between Swinton and Elba. Both actors obviously have charisma to burn, but we never really feel the connection between them, which means we don't connect with their relationship. This movie should have sent me out of the theater with tears streaming down my face feeling drunk on the possibilities of love and desperate to find my person, but instead my reaction was basically just, "Well, that was cute."

And that's OK! Even though it didn't connect with me emotionally, it still filled my brain parts with beautiful images and reminded me of the inherent power of stories. "Longing" checks all my intellectual boxes while leaving my heart a bit cold, which is fine. Not everything can be "Marcel the Shell With Shoes On."

Three Thousand Years of Longing
Dir. George Miller
Grade: B-
Regal Old Mill

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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