Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) poster

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)


USA/Australia. 2022.


Director – George Miller, Screenplay – Augusta Gore & George Miller, Based on the Short Story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt, Producers – George Miller & Doug Mitchell, Photography – John Seale, Music – Tom Holkenborg, Visual Effects Supervisor – Paul Butterworth, Visual Effects – Fin Design + Effects (Supervisor – Ron Malhi), Future Associate (Supervisor – Lindsay Adams), Method Studios (Supervisor – Glenn Melenhorst), Mr. X (Supervisor – Simon Maddison), New Holland Creative, Slate VFX (Supervisor – David Booth), Stage 23 (Supervisors – Christian Debney & Jonathan Hairman), Special Effects Supervisor – Lloyd Finnemore, Makeup Design – Lesley Vanderwalt, Production Design – Roger Ford. Production Company – Kennedy Miller Mitchell Productions/FilmNation Entertainment/Elevate Production Finance/Sunac.


Tilda Swinton (Alithea Binnie), Idris Elba (The Djinn), Erdil Yasaroglu (Professor Gunhan), Aamito Lagum (The Queen of Sheba), Nicholas Mouawad (King Solomon), Ece Yuskel (Gulten), Matteo Bocelli (Prince Mustafa), Lachy Hulme (Sultan Suleiman), Megan Gale (Hurrem), Ogulcan Arman Uslu (Murad IV), Jack Braddy (Ibrahim), Burcu Goldegar (Zefir), Melissa Jaffer (Clementine), Anne Charleston (Fanny)


Alithea Binnie, a professor of narratology from London, flies to a conference in Istanbul. In the bazaar, she buys a strange bottle. Back in her hotel room, she opens the bottle and is startled when a djinn emerges. It offers her three wishes but Alithea cannot think of anything she wants. The djinn sits down to tell her several stories about its life over the last three thousand years. These range for its love for the Queen of Sheba before being banished by King Solomon. It was then found by a slave girl in the sultan’s palace only for her wishes to cause her to be executed before she could make her third wish, dooming the djinn to an intangible existence for over a century. The djinn was revived again years later in the palace where it became caught between two brothers vying for the sultancy. It was then found by Zefir, the wife of a merchant, who asked for all knowledge.

George Miller is the man most associated with the Mad Max films. His first appeared with Mad Max (1979), which gained great word of mouth, before he took to things to another whole level with Mad Max 2 (1981), which made an international star out of Mel Gibson and created a whole genre of post-apocalyptic action films. He followed this with the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet segment of Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983), co-directed Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and then had a reasonable success with The Witches of Eastwick (1987), before quitting Hollywood. He subsequently produced Philip Noyce’s thriller Dead Calm (1989) and the tv mini-series Bangkok Hilton (1989), both of which introduced Nicole Kidman to the world; had a big success as the producer of the talking animals film Babe (1995), directed its less successful sequel Babe: Pig in the City (1998); and only directed one other film, the true-life medical miracle cure search film Lorenzo’s Oil (1992).

The 1990s and early 00s were known for films that Miller didn’t make such as Contact (1997) and the cancelled Justice League: Mortal. Miller then made a surprise return with Happy Feet (2006), which won an Academy Award as Best Animated Film, and its sequel Happy Feet Two (2011). He consolidated this with returning to familiar ground with Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), which was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Three Thousand Years of Longing snuck out with little build-up at the 2022 Cannes Festival, accruing some excellent reviews although doing poorly in wide release, earning only $8 million in the US. At age 77, the time most people are well into their retirement, Miller is currently in the planning stages of a further Mad Max film with Furiosa.

The film is adapted from the title story in The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (1994) by A.S. Byatt, a collection that examine elements from myth and fairytale from a modern perspective. Byatt is a British author who comes with an impressive list of honours, including being a winner of the prestigious Booker Prize and having been awarded a more than a dozen honorary doctorates and degrees, as well as being made a dame of the British Empire. Byatt’s work has been adapted to film before with Angels & Insects (1995) and Possession (2002) both non-genre films.

The Djinn (Idris Elba) appears in Alithea (Tilda Swinton)'s hotel room in Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
The Djinn (Idris Elba) appears in Alithea (Tilda Swinton)’s hotel room

When most people think of the genie, they probably think of Barbara Eden in tv’s I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70), Robin Williams in Aladdin (1992) or even Shaquille O’Neal in Kazaam (1996). The concept of the djinn is much older and less cute and cuddly. It can be found in the Koran where it is a magical being that can be both good and evil. The last few years have started to see the djinn being reclaimed from the children’s film interpretation and taken back to its original source. Djinns have appeared in films such as Wishmaster (1997) and sequels, Long Time Dead (2002), Red Sands (2009), Under the Shadow (2016), tv’s American Gods (2017-21) and Kandisha (2020). For a more detailed list see films about Genies/Djinns.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind about Three Thousand Years of Longing is that it is a Tarsem Singh film. There is the same sense of world fable told as a tale narrated to another that you have in Tarsem’s The Fall (2006), while the fantastical richness of the costumery and settings reminds of the visual extravagance of Tarsem films like The Cell (2000), The Fall and Immortals (2011).

The film has a powerhouse duo of acting talent in Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, both actors who seem to be at a peak popularity. I have been a fan of Idris Elba ever since watching tv’s Luther (2010-9), if not all the way back to Ultraviolet (1998) – it has been fantastic seeing him grow into becoming an A-list and awards-nominated actor. Tilda has been around forever – one of her earliest roles was in Friendship’s Death (1987) where she was an alien android who spent the whole film in a hotel room talking to a stranger. This essentially has the same set-up but here she plays the human – and even seems to have imported the same broad accent she used for Snowpiercer (2013).

The Djinn (Idris Elba) appears appears to The Queen of Sheba (Aamito Lagum) in Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
The Djinn (Idris Elba) appears appears to The Queen of Sheba (Aamito Lagum) (c)

The whole film is really these two top-drawer actors in a room talking to and navigating around one another. There is her curiosity about the nature of what he is, while he tells a series of stories about the pitfalls of being a djinn, his centuries-long longing and the problems that can occur when people ask for what they want. Each of Idris Elba’s digressions comes in the visually rich style of an Arabian Nights Fantasy, before arriving at a cautionary warning. Beyond the fabular nature of the tales told, there is a whole meta side to the film that is interrogating the idea of the djinn – where Tilda is an expert in myth and story and then meets such a creature and proceeds to deconstruct what he is and the nature of making/receiving wishes.

For the bulk of the film, George Miller creates a bare stage to allow two great actors to navigate around one another. The last third heads off to become a romantic film of sorts before reaching an ending that shrugs its shoulders about this. A scene where Tilda Swinton has a shouting match with two old ladies next door about racism feels like a message-heavy piece that has been boiler-plated on from another film.

I do have to raise some quibble about the character of Alithea. She is written the way she is because that is who the plot needs her to be. On the other hand, I have a problem accepting the idea of someone who has no desires and wants of her own, is perfectly happy with what she has. In my experience, everyone is unhappy or dissatisfied with something – be it their appearance, state of health, lack of love, money, prestige or career. Even if that is the case, could not she make a wish to direct major nations to contribute more to fighting world hunger and poverty? Maybe that counts as her not being able to alleviate suffering but could she not at least wish for someone like Jeff Bezos to stop hoarding wealth and treat his workers as decent human beings, that there be an end to Global Warming. The list of potential issues could be very lengthy.

(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Idris Elba), Best Actress (Tilda Swinton) and Best Production Design at this site’s Best of 2022 Awards).

Trailer here

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