What a miracle Mad Max: Fury Road seemed when it hit theatres in 2015. Rarely, if ever, has such a heady fusion of ambition, technical prowess and pure imagination evoked so thrillingly the collision of high and low art, something all great blockbuster cinema aspires to. To this day, it is considered by many to be one of the greatest action films ever made – and an example of the astonishing heights cinema can reach under the guise of a once-in-a-lifetime visionary. No one makes films quite like George Miller (though it is interesting that two other Australian visionaries of eclectic and varying output, Baz Luhrmann and Andrew Dominik, would return in the same year after a lengthy hiatus with Elvis and Blonde, respectively), and if anyone deserved something of a blank check for their next project, it’s the director of the nearly universally beloved Fury Road.
In 2022, it’s exceptionally rare that a film of the likes of Mad Max mastermind George Miller’s latest would arrive in cinemas at all, let alone with the price tag that it carries. It’s a messy, bones-and-all fantasia that doesn’t quite hit its mark but has a whale of a time trying.
Three Thousand Years of Longing, Miller’s new bazaar of the bizarre, is singularly unique in this year’s film landscape, boasting a sizeable blockbuster budget for a film that wears its seeming lack of commerciality as a badge of pride. Tilda Swinton stars as a ‘narratologist’ (or studier of stories) named Alithea who accidentally awakens a djinn (Idris Elba) while on a conference in Istanbul. Naturally wary of this wish-granting entity, Alithea engages in rounds of storytelling with the djinn, learning of his life and the previous people to whom he was beholden, including the Queen of Sheba, a mad prince and a reclusive genius.
Much of the action of Longing takes place in these lengthy flashbacks, which unpack the life of the spectacularly unlucky djinn as he finds himself at the mercy of fallible, foolish and naive humans. As the djinn, Elba is the film’s highlight, delivering one of his best big screen performances in years, imbuing his strange and delightful creature with pathos and mystery, a sense of ancient grandeur that is tantalisingly out-of-sorts with the modern. The first half of the film, chopping haphazardly between different, colourfully rendered periods of history and Alithea’s bland, staid hotel room, are the film’s finest, as the relationship blossoms between the two and we are thrown headlong into story after story. As the film proceeds, however, the need to wrap things up proves an unwieldy beast for Miller, leading to a truncated final act marred by messiness and a curious sense of emotional detachment. The two key characters exist in planes that rarely fit together perfectly, and yet as we find them being forced apart it feels as though the filmmakers never quite figured out how to hit the emotional points that would drive the sadness of their respective situations home. It is a film bursting with ideas and wonderful craft, undoubtedly. But for a film so concerned with the machinations of love and desire, it’s an oddly offbeat and distanced thing that never quite manages to spark strong feelings of its own.
In cinemas now.
Three Thousand Years of Longing
Movie title: Three Thousand Years of Longing (Miller, 2022)
Movie description: In 2022, it’s exceptionally rare that a film of the likes of Mad Max mastermind George Miller’s latest would arrive in cinemas at all, let alone with the price tag that it carries. It’s a messy, bones-and-all fantasia that doesn’t quite hit its mark but has a whale of a time trying.
Date published: September 1, 2022
Country: Australia, U.S.
Author: George Miller, Augusta Gore
Director(s): George Miller
Actor(s): Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Pia Thunderbolt
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance