Fantasy stories tend to feel like something for young people. They’re often seen as stories to dazzle those who do not know yet all the realism of the world. Three Thousand Years of Longing feels very much like adult fantasy, a tale to whisk the audience away from the routine and into the transmundane. Sure, it has lots of sex but also a certain maturity with characters who have grown with love and loss.
Accustom to the world is Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a scholar who has grown familiar with myths as guides to find answers where there are none. She struggles to live in reality while fantasy seems to keep creeping into her life. She soon becomes fascinated with a mysterious bottle she finds in Turkey. After cleaning it with an electric toothbrush, out comes the Djinn (Idris Elba).
Alithea, being quite familiar with tales of the Djinn, is highly cautious of the prospect of three wishes. She’s well aware that nearly every story involving wishes is a cautionary one. She’s also had her heart broken hard enough to be wary of the world. The Djinn shares her pain, revealing his own lengthy backstory as a being bound by hopelessness. He describes having known of great beauty where he granted their every desire. Yet every adventure always ended in sadness.
This is a film that is rather surprising in the directions that it takes, often getting messy with its jumping around in time and uneven story dissection. Most of the story is just Binnie and her Djinn discussing what it means to be true to your heart in a manner that walks the line between making sense of the world and finding meaning in it all. Their back-and-forth is strong enough to carry the film, even for one with loaded with historical drama, epic war scenes, magical allure, and plenty of erotic allure.
Whimsy may seem like a poison word that signals mindless entertainment but there are so many wonderful moments that are great to get lost within. Sequences of musical ceremonies and contemplating the wonders of reality in the particle form are so mesmerizing. Director George Miller has enough patience with the audience to let us drink and savor these many moments like a fine wine.
I don’t even care if the word contemplative makes this film seem like it’s getting lost within its own ass. There are some surprisingly introspective moments for both Binnie and the Djinn, where Binnie embraces her heart’s longing and Djinn learns of the wonders within humanity since his absence. And by wonders, I’m not referring to the easy fish-out-of-water gags where Djinn has his first soda or TikTok account. Why would he bother with such simplicities when he could listen to electromagnetic waves or observe a brain surgery? The Djinn’s discoveries of humanity’s identity are just as compelling as Binnie’s unearthed desires to find more in her life.
Brimming with special effects, Three Thousand Years of Longing takes care to never let the love get lost in the lushness of it all. When it seems like every movie involving magic and CGI has to be some grand showcase of blockbuster thrills, it’s deeply refreshing for those elements to be used in service of a mature romance. Not a romance placed atop some bigger end-of-the-world spectacle like a cherry but more like the whole cake. It has a striking resemblance to Good Luck to You, Leo Grande except with a greater focus on acceptance and connections than sex. Although, yes, there is some erotic moments and it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the sight of a giant Idris Elba sexually embracing Tilda Swinton. Not exactly something you see in every movie, especially for a movie like this which feels especially rare.