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Three Thousand Years Of Longing Review: George Miller’s Grown-Up Fairytale Is Exciting, But Doesn’t Go Nearly Weird Enough

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton should be paired up more often.

Idris Elba speaks with Tilda Swinton, while the two are dressed in robes in Three Thousand Years of Longing.
(Image: © Elise Lockwood/MGM)

Stories of djinn, or “genies” as they’re more commonly known, have long represented some of the most fantastical tales of wish fulfillment in fiction. It’s a subgenre of its own, with a wide gamut of efforts catering to both children and adults, extolling the virtues of being careful what you wish for. Co-writer/director George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing skews towards the more mature side of that spectrum, and it’s an exciting grown-up fairytale brought to life with the filmmaker’s aesthetic. However, the finished product could have benefitted from going weirder, as the adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” feels a bit more reserved than one might expect. 

The mortal that Three Thousand Years of Longing follows is Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), an academic who happens to come into the possession of a vessel that unleashes our story’s Djinn (Idris Elba). Tasked with granting the standard three wishes, the magical being tells an anthology of stories to the human currently in command of his fate, and that’s where the bulk of George Miller’s film is told. 

Even with these fantastical stories unfolding in great visual detail, Three Thousand Years of Longing doesn’t quite stick the landing, but it manages to put on a hell of a show while trying. 

George Miller’s first movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a solid, but slightly disjointed effort.

The heart of Miller’s first narrative since Mad Max: Fury Road exploded onto the screen in 2015, a strong anthological core holds for a majority of the movie. Idris Elba’s Djinn weaves stories for Tilda Swinton’s Alithea that warn her about the powers of his wishes with tales of his past, and it’s here that the novelty of the movie takes hold. 

With Swinton’s character being an expert in storytelling and possessing a very meticulous mind, her seemingly wish-less personality takes glee digging into Three Thousand Years of Longing’s cautionary tales. She challenges Elba’s storyteller throughout the film, and the rapport between the two fuels what unfurls, and vice versa. It isn’t until a shift late in the game that the rhythm of the movie falls apart, splitting the narrative into two almost completely separate pictures. 

The film continues past what felt like a logical endpoint, and George Miller and co-writer Augusta Gore inject some modern commentary into what is essentially the fourth story of Three Thousand Years of Longing’s anthology. If it were laid out a little better in the opening act of the film, the very pointed jabs at the real world could have been a great opportunity to get weird. Instead, certain decisions and plot points that really want to say something about our current state of affairs stick out like sore thumbs, failing to be woven properly into the overall fabric.

 Even with that stumbling present, it’s still a mesmerizing thing to watch, especially with Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton holding the fort. 

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton were made to carry a movie together, and their efforts here gladly prove that point.

The pairing of Elba and Swinton proves to be a tremendous casting call by Three Thousand Years of Longing. Teaming George Miller’s directing prowess with Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton’s acting energies is a formula for success on paper, but seeing the results reflect that hypothesis is something that feels like a wish come true for movie-goers. 

It's through Idris Elba’s Djinn that the understated magic of Three Thousand Years of Longing works best. The djinn isn’t a fast talking or sneaky force of unlimited power, but more of a methodical showman. Elba tells each of these stories with pure, enthralling charisma. As far as djinns go, this is one you’d actually want to run across, as he’d do everything he can to make sure you get the most out of your wishes. 

Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton’s Alithea Binnie makes the most out of being a captive audience. Showcasing vulnerability, cunning, and modesty, Swinton's role is one that her fans will definitely recognize as more on the grounded side of her skill set. And yet, just as Idris Elba knows how to command his role as the Djinn, Swinton explores the space of her human companion to beautiful and intriguing effect. 

Despite the odd pacing of the stories presented, Three Thousand Years of Longing is still a lush film with visual excitement and commanding performances.

Warts and all, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a movie that deserves to be seen theatrically. Though the stories may not mesh together as well as one would hope, the visuals and performances fill every corner of the screen. George Miller may not have gone as weird as one might hope, but this is still a film that is very much of a grand and lush scope that’s larger than life. 

If anything, this tale of loss, romance, and the intricacy of wishes stands as a signpost at a very important crossroads. Firmly planted between movies aimed at an adult audience and the spectacle that can still exist in such a medium, Three Thousand Years of Longing shows that huge, colorful epics don’t have to be limited to a general audiences approach. It’s that promise that makes the relative tameness of this movie, especially compared to Mad Max Fury Road, all the more frustrating. 

Alas, there’s always the winning team of George Miller, Idris Elba, and Tilda Swinton to fall back on. Should anything be taken from this exercise, it’s that this is a match made in heaven. Investing in this trio is putting creative minds of great quality together, and it could almost be assured that should they all collide again on another project, it’ll be something else worth taking in at the movies. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.