September 16, 2022 | CULTURE | By Frances Thyer | Photo from the Catalyst Archives

There has always been something intriguing about a cautionary mythical tale, whether or not it has any basis in reality. In the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing”, the narrator promises the audience that the following story is true, however, “you’re more likely to believe me if I tell it as a fairy tale.” Whether the intention is to fool or persuade, anyone with a soft spot for storytelling can find something to enjoy in director George Miller’s unique fairytale.

Director of the “Mad Max” series, George Miller has a mind for the creative.

Opening the film in Istanbul, we meet professor of narratology Alithea Binnie, played by Tilda Swinton. In her hotel room after a conference presentation, a spirit escapes an antique bottle. The spirit, played by Idris Elba, offers Alithea three wishes and requires they be true to her heart’s desires. The genie, referred to as a Djinn, embarks into stories of longing; one tale involves Sheba and Solomon, another recounts a concubine and a prince, and the final account describes the life of a Turkish merchant’s young wife.

Based on the original story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt, the individual tales prove captivating but struggle to come together in a meaningful way. Ultimately, the movie drags on, leaving little time for the film’s conclusion.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” also gives little modern-day commentary on fairy tales; the focus of the middle-aged white woman fantasy invites an important conversation about race that is never addressed in the film. Given that it is a story about stories, it feels as though the film did not implore the structure and insight the anxious main character teaches. But maybe that is what makes the narrative a fairy tale.

In contrast with the spirit’s historic craving for connection, Alithea says that she is a solitary creature by nature. The story hinges on the theme of loneliness, with Alithea telling colleagues at the beginning of the film that she is content on her own; this is a cliché and lackluster response as she navigates her divorce. Given that her name itself alludes to the mythological goddess of truth, there is clear irony in the creative lengths her character will go to mislead the lonely mind.

Realistically, the film is most successful in its production design. Opening with a note of gratitude from the director for seeing the film in theaters, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is truly meant to be seen on the big screen.

Utilizing a wide variety of visual effects, the audience sees pencil drawings coming to life, Einstein being kidnapped from a TV screen by the hands of a genie, human figures emitting clouds of sparkling dust. Its major successes are in the smallest details, whether that is the intricate lacings of spider webs or the smallest complexities of musical instruments.

Alithea’s fantasy is quite obviously deluded, and in that way, we as an audience find her both tiresome and full of imagination. In the end, “Three Thousand Years of Longing”is true to its name; we feel the characters longing for connection from beginning to end. As Alithea says, “we exist only if we are real to others.”

“Three Thousand Years of Longing”is now playing in theaters.

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