Going into George Miller’s first feature in seven years-following “Mad Max: Fury Road” is wildly unfair for any movie-I had no idea what to expect out of “Three Thousand Years of Longing.” Entering the unknown thanks to trusted leads in Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, I was game for what the 77-year-old writer/director had to offer. And then the movie played.
Here’s the thing you have to understand about Miller’s latest: It’s “The Shape of Water” meets “Aladdin,” with a side of “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” for safe measure. It’s extra-talky and very cerebral in a way that can make people adjust in their seats eight times or even allow the mind to wander. Yes, if you are wondering, I did snooze off for a minute here or there, but not out of end-of-day tiredness; this movie allows one to lose focus easily.
Elba plays a Djinn, who shows up in the hotel room of Alithea Binnie (Swinton), granting her three wishes that she can change her life with. It’s not like Alithea needs the assist–she is a talented scholar currently in Istanbul to participate in a conference. During a presentation, she keeps having visions and illusions of things and people that may or may not be there. It turns out Djinn is near, and can’t leave until she gives him those three decisions. While this seems like a nice and easy short film, the problem is that Alithea doesn’t want the wishes. What she wants to do is find out why he is here and why she has to make the three choices.
What follows started out as intriguing and even beguiling at times of the average cinema fan, but eventually it just gets out of hand. As the two different beings verbally spar with each other and the second half shows us what happened to Elba’s loner wish-granter, “Three Thousand Years” should have been ascending to something powerful and emotional. Instead, It only made me long for the end credits, which weren’t exactly in a hurry to get here. It’s like waiting for the big, fancy truck to come plow you over, and a small Prius bumps into your calf instead.
Elba and Swinton make it work for as long as they can, investing their creativity as performers into characters that aren’t the easiest reads. Once the screenplay starts to open up and explanations start to come together, the film meanders too far out into the way the fuck beyond of ideas and lost me. Maybe it won’t lose you, but I became Jack at the end of “Titanic,” eternally frozen to this movie’s touch without a real chance of redemption. Even worse, its seemingly modest run time feels more laborious in the third act. Sometimes, a short story (Miller and Augusta Gore’s script is adapted from A.S. Byatt’s story) doesn’t translate well to a feature-length film.
I can’t see myself returning for a second try either. Example: I want to give Jordan Peele’s “Nope” another look, because I think the idiosyncrasies of my day may mess with my enjoyment level of a movie on occasion, one that had a few extra layers of complexity attached that I wasn’t ready for. I don’t wish to return to Miller’s “Longing,” which is a very modest journey from the fiery badlands of his Tom Hardy/Charlize Theron action adventure. Those were chaotic, but in epic fashion with a built-in aesthetic. This high-profile slow-boiling story of connection and unusual romance walks to its own beat for sure, just not one I liked or would prefer to revisit again.
For a deeper discussion, enjoy my video review from my YouTube channel, In The Buff.