George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing” stars Tilda Swinton as Dr. Alithea Binnie, a brilliant scholar and public speaker who, during a speech during a conference, becomes aware of a supernatural presence.
Back in her hotel room, she accidentally rubs a glass container and summons a genie, or Djinn, played by Idris Elba. Most of the film takes place in the hotel room, where Binnie and the genie share tales, consider the danger of granting three wishes and ponder the shared isolation in their lives.
This likely won’t be considered one of Miller’s greatest films but its easily his most personal, as the dialogue considers the power and value of storytelling and the quirky and sad nature of existence. There’s also meditation on how love, in all its messiness, is a choice and that genius and madness are closely related.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing” has visuals that reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1989) and Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall” (2008), though it isn’t as abrasive as the former nor as strategic in its visual presentation as the latter.
Miller includes great dissolves and some aggressive CGI, but this isn’t like anything he’s made before. While ostensibly an existentialist fantasy and, at the same time, a genre-less work (which may be why MGM is clearly having a hard time marketing it), the tone is really everything.
George Miller, the Oscar-winning director of Mad Max: Fury Road and Three Thousand Years of Longing, talks inspirations, storytelling, and magic. https://t.co/rB7IOiGMwh
— Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) August 25, 2022
Miller’s film is fearless and sincere, using the relationship between Swinton’s egghead academic and Elba’s seen-it-all genie as a launching point for the stories-within-the-story. Here’s that rare thing that almost never happens: a major filmmaker (who is approaching 80 years of age) was somehow able to make an unclassifiable pet project with a massive budget and movie stars.
Miller clearly doesn’t care if his audience gets it, only that they connect emotionally and commit to a dialogue-heavy, character driven epic about the contradictions of humankind.
To fixate on the exact nature of the Elba and Swinton characters, particularly the sexual relationship and how one can grow old with a genie, is to miss the point. The love story, such as it is, is more akin to the angel who longs for human touch in Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” (1987) than the cynical, sexualized tryst between superhero and the man-made god of Zac Snyder’s “Watchmen” (2009).
The two leads give such feeling to characters that are extremely difficult to pull off.
FAST FACT: Director George Miller worked as a doctor before embarking on a film career that produced disparate films like “The Road Warrior,” “Babe: Pig in the City” and “Lorenzo’s Oil.”
Rather than come across like a tossed off self-indulgence or a chaotic vanity project, the production has a focused energy and class that reflects the likes of David Lean and John Ford. The cinematography by John Seale and especially the score by Tom Holkenborg have an exquisite, classical quality.
While Elba’s Djinn ears reminded me a little of Channing Tatum’s appearance in the misbegotten “Jupiter Ascending” (2015), Miller manages to somehow avoid camp, even as the premise and earnestness always threaten to cause this tight rope act to tumble, but that never happens. Instead, the ludicrous nature of it is countered by how heartfelt it is overall.
It’s not as deep as it thinks it is – a scene at an airport is out of place and short sighted (if you have a genie, would flying a commercial airline, and putting up with its rules, even be a consideration?).
It feels very long for a 108-minute film, though I sense that Miller tightened a narrative that easily could have been three hours (and, at some point early on, probably was).
Miller’s film is being done a major disservice by a tone-deaf trailer, which promotes it as a comedy (it isn’t) and unwisely reminds us that the director is the “Mad Genius” behind one of the best films of the past 20 years, “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015).
Actually, Miller has made other unexpected, off-brand works, like “Babe: Pig in the City” (1998) and “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987). This is another one of his out-of-nowhere, surprise projects, a creative pit stop in between two new “Mad Max” epics and every bit as essential to his overall body of work.
There are many scenes here that made me grateful that I caught this on the big screen, where its likely to have a brief run. Poor MGM even released this a week after Elba’s already DOA “Beast” and probably expected a lead in after a big opening, which never happened.
Even without Elba punching out CGI lions, “Three Thousand Years of Solitude” was never going to be a big draw at the box office. It’s too weird and defies an “elevator pitch” description. Yet, if any 2022 film is all but guaranteed for cult status, it’s this one.
Not every scene works but, during its most dazzling passages, the film reminded me that movie theaters can be a place where we see things we’ve never seen before, spectacles created by artists who can share their dreams with us.
Miller, whose cinematic dreams are bigger than most, is, indeed, still a “mad genius.” Before we return to the sandy chaos of his forthcoming “Furiosa” (due in 2024), here’s another risky, one-of-a-kind creation, a work as lovely as it is wild.