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Three Thousand Years of Longing

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“There's no story about wishing that is not a cautionary tale. Alithea Binnie” (Tilda Swinton)

“We all have desires, even if they remain hidden from us. But it is your story, and I cannot wait to see where it goes”. Djinn (Idris Elba)

“Or how it might end.” Alithea Binnie

In Three Thousand Years of Longing, a surprisingly tender tale from the bombastic writer/director of such films as Mad Max: Fury Road, a djinn (genie) in a bottle dispenses three wishes, a staple of storytelling not just from Arabia but all over the world.

George Miller has crafted a new lyrical take on the myth that parses love as the object of desire connected to our long-sought perfect story. The Djinn appears to lonely narratology professor, Alithea, offering her wishes, which she analyzes as she attempts to think of even one, so satisfied with her aloneness she is.

What he really offers her is companionship cum romance and a chance to have a listener to his stories of renowned beauties like Bathsheba, using the Scheherazade motif from One Thousand-and- One-Nights motif. After all, Scheherazade saved her life telling the King her stories, and Alithea can save Djinn by completing her wishes.

The freshness of this approach, that one has to think hard and not immediately request money or power, is refreshing. It results in Djinn telling stories of love in ascending order of merit, with the final one most beautiful as it is in the present between Alithea and Djinn.

Along the way, Miller shows the power of myths and storytelling potent forces explaining life’s mysteries. From Bathsheba’s transcendent beauty seducing Solomon to Sophia’s finding knowledge from Djinn as the ultimate love. It’s a Platonic ascension from the sensual to the intellectual with love always the object. Stories, now including movies, are capable of answering the mysteries of human existence.

The stories of Djinn and Bathsheba, a sultan’s overweight son, and Sophia, a slave girl of Suleiman the Magnificent, ascend from sensuality to romantic, as if Djinn were traveling in time to the higher order with Alithea. The endgame is to wish to love and be loved.

The wishes in Djinn’s tales of wealth and power are trumped by the purity of the final story. Along the way comes pointed commentary on the emergence over the centuries of technology that seems to be counter to the romantic persuasion but looks finally to merge both, electronics represented by the Djinn and dust Alithea the human.

Miller and writer Augusta Gore (from A. S. Byatt’s short story) wish us a film of layers, from colorful myths to real love, tempered by a magic offered through storytelling. Elba and Swinton are the perfect actors to make us believe in the transforming power of love, Miller a gifted storyteller who gives us sumptuous visuals with heady philosophy.

A gift for a summer too often giving its audience airy nothings.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Director: George Miller (Mad Max)

Screenplay: Miller, Augusta Gore from A. S. Byatt short story

Cast: Tilda Swinton (French Dispatch), Idris Elba (Beast)

Run Time: 1h 48m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.