George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing isn’t what you think it is. It isn’t an all-out war on your senses or a knock ’em, sock ’em CGI explosion of insanity set in a fantasy world brought to you by the man who brought us the Thunderdome, tap-dancing animated penguins, and an Oscar-winning pig movie. Instead, Miller’s film is an understated, beautiful piece about the power of storytelling, wrapped in folklore and delivered with heartstring pull thanks to the talents of its two leads.
Despite what the trailer suggests, the story is a traditional two-hander exploring the depth of fantasy realism, pitting pragmatic narratologist Alithea (Tilda Swinton) against the Djinn (Idris Elba) she accidentally frees while on a speaking engagement in Istanbul. His freedom comes with the promise of three wishes. And thus, we have our tale: a scholar who knows all the caveats and cautionary tales that come along with such a Monkey’s Paw as she is forced into a relationship with a creature of myth. And if she does not make her wish, the Djinn will never know freedom. The pair sit in her hotel room and have a bit of chat about their situation. He waxes poetic about his past lives as a servant and a lover to those who have commanded his decanter confinement. In return, she tells him of her life as a solitary, scholarly creature of habit.
With each fantastic tale, they learn more about each other, but as in the tradition of the Canterbury Tales, each story is not just for amusement. There is an admonition of caution: be careful how you spend your wishes as there are consequences for all involved.
Though it’s far from the zany wish-fulfillment extravaganza that early trailers seemed to tease, Longing maintains a heavy fantasy element adding a layer of depth (and eye candy) to the experience. People expecting an Everything Everywhere All At Once approach to filmmaking or a Mad Max feel, will be met by a quiet film that reflects on powerful notions of narrative, as held within casual conversation between two acting titans.
This is more My Dinner With Andre meets Bedazzled than Jumanji. Hell, without the special effects component, it would be a mumblecore film about two people chatting about “what if” scenarios in their bathrobes. Swinton and Elba carry the film just with their conversation. There are grandiose flashbacks with moments of stunning cinematography and camerawork, but it would all fall apart without these two. They are more than capable of keeping our attention, even without the Queen of Sheeba, power-hungry Sultans, and nosy British neighbors that Miller throws their way. The carefully controlled chaos is told in measured moments as two acting behemoths unravel the art of fantasy fables and ultimately, the power of a good love story.
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