By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by George Miller
- Starring Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Aamito Lagum, Burcu Golgedar
Three Thousand Years of Longing starts off with two clashing tones off the bat that reflect the bizarre sensibilities of it’s director. On the one hand, you have an intimate character drama that’s more similar to something like Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy – two souls meeting together in a distant place and making a connection over the course of real time. And then, on the other, it’s squarely what you would expect from a George Miller movie, in that it’s wild, insane, and unpredictable in the best ways possible.
And that’s actually a great balancing act Miller himself has been doing for much of his career. All of the his projects in some way are unpredictable, always taking the strangest route to get to a certain destination while also tackling unconventional subjects. No other director, for example, could tackle something as dramatic and depressing like Lorenzo’s Oil but then immediately head into the Babe films without breaking a sweat. Miller might have the biggest range of any filmmaker working today, and Three Thousand Years of Longing might be his best showcase of that in a while.
For much of it’s runtime, it’s a collection of stories told by a Djinn to a professor, who recounts this experience like a fairy tale herself. The way we tell stories to each other is massively important in our history, and this is both reflected in the subtext of the narrative while also presented as something of a fact in the movie itself. An opening conference that briefly touches on how science and myth have merged to become one the film begins to reflect on the places these kinds of stories have in our modern environment, and what they’ve morphed into over the years. Is science simply just our way of trying to explain these mythological elements that have eluded us? Or does the mythology compliment the science?
What’s great about these questions is that, at it’s core, they are mostly background fluff material, and Miller, while definitely posing them as part of the grander picture, is far more interested in the intimate romance at the center of the story. Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, obviously, have excellent chemistry and their equal sense of longing for touch and affection makes their budding relationship sensual and romantic without being overtly graphic or sexy. Elba does most of the heavy lifting here though, having to act out with numerous different time periods and casts while also narrating us through it, and he’s the obvious standout for that reason alone.
With John Seale at the helm here, Miller’s work here feels like a more subdued extension of his work on Fury Road. Some really exceptional work across the board, honestly, as the film’s bright yellows and emphasis on hot, bright reds is makes every shot something of a painting in of itself. There is a unique touch early on where the film uses sketch like drawings to represent an imaginary friend that our lead had when she was a kid and it’s so clever that you start kicking yourself asking why this hasn’t been done before. That $60 million price tag is clearly on display here as well, not just with the clever tricks, also a ton of glossy CGI that almost always looks great, save for a couple of small moments here or there where it almost feels purposefully fake, blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction.
It’s really interesting that 3/4ths of Three Thousand Years of Longing is such a slam dunk across the board that it makes some of the last minute choices in it’s last 20 minutes a bit baffling. Definitely feels like there is a much longer, more ambitious film here in it’s third act, one that would make up a second half of a story that could have made this an all timer. But it feels rushed out and incomplete at points, mainly due to it introducing a bunch of haphazard new concepts that never really properly intertwine properly. And while the actual ending of the film is cute, and leaves off on a note of bittersweet melancholy that fits the fairy tale aspect the film was going for, there is a bit one too many fake out climaxes on the road to getting there.
It’s really great that George Miller got to make this though. In a world where passion projects get shoved into streaming services to die, it’s great to see Miller’s weird little romance film with a Djinn get a full blown theatrical release. And it’s worth it on the big screen! The grand scale of the stories, the beautiful cinematography, Tom Holkenborg’s fantastic, sweeping score, it all pops in the theater. I wish it all came together better in the end but that’s a small complaint for what is otherwise a great time.