Swinton and Elba Largely Help Carry ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’
I should start by admitting that I would purchase a ticket to watch Tilda Swinton jaywalk on a country road or sit in a corner reading quietly to herself or carefully slice the crust off of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In other words, I find her to be a fascinating performer who takes risks and whose characters and movies are consistently worthy of attention.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is directed by Oscar-winner George Miller and he adapted the script with co-writer Augusta Gore (Mr. Miller’s daughter) from the 1994 short story, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt. Three Thousand Years of Longing is Mr. Miller’s first film since Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and fits into his diverse filmography that also includes the original Mad Max (1979), The Witches Of Eastwick (1987), Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), Babe: Pig in the City (1998), and Happy Feet (2006). This is a filmmaker who chooses his own projects.
Tilda Swinton stars as Dr. Alithea Binnie, a narratologist and literary scholar who describes herself as “a solitary creature by nature.” She’s in Istanbul to present at a conference “to tell stories about telling stories.” Alithea preaches that science can explain all, even as she’s experiencing vivid visions that she herself cannot explain. After purchasing a handcrafted bottle, she returns to her hotel (in the Agatha Christie room) and cleans it with her electric toothbrush. When a Djinn swooshes from the bottle in a plume of purple smoke, she’s beyond skeptical of making that first wish – all too aware of the legendary tales around just such circumstances. But this giant Djinn is played by Idris Elba and he’s quite persuasive.
The Djinn explains the rules of her 3 wishes and then regales Alithea with four tales of his escapades, most of which involve love and betrayal, and all of which resulted in him being trapped in a bottle. The first story involves the Queen of Sheba (a stunning Aamito Lagum) and how the Djinn was in love until a sly King Solomon messed it up and banished him to the ocean floor. All of the tales are played out in vibrant colors and fascinating detail, with the Djinn explaining that in order to gain his freedom, he must grant Alithea “her heart’s desire.”
Three Thousand Years of Longing reminds me a bit of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (2006), each of the four tales told by the Djinn explode in color from a different era. Even the Djinn and his Spock ears are too large for the screen and certainly too large for the hotel room. And oh, that hotel room. For the vast majority of their time together Alithea and the Djinn are stuck in a bland – mostly white – room that contrasts with the stories he tells, but gives Ms. Swinton little to work with. Each of the stories is beautifully told, though a bit more humor would have been beneficial, and it should be noted that this one takes some definite “buy-in” from the viewer. However, there is certainly no reason to complain as we are treated to two stellar actors and multiple stories of love and fate.