Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 4, 2022

3000 Years of Longing blends fantasy and reality in a fantastical love story

By VAREN TALWAR | September 13, 2022

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GAGE SKIDMORE / CC BY-SA 2.0

George Miller directed 3000 Years of Longing, a thought-provoking meditation on the timeless facets of the human experience.

3000 Years of Longing is a difficult film to write about. It asks profound questions about love and the nature of humanity, blending fantasy and reality into a story that takes a different form and meaning for each individual viewer. 

It isn’t a film interested in answers to its questions; rather, it ponders over the stories that have explored them over the ages and what we can learn from them. It traverses the human conditions of solitude, love, greed and desire over three millennia across ancient lands, only to reveal the consistenty of our subservience to these proclivities.

Despite the arguably grotesque job done by its marketing team, I was extremely excited for 3000 Years of Longing because it was Director George Miller’s first film since Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). That was probably not the best mindset to enter the film with, because it didn’t have the insane action scenes I had been craving since Fury Road. Instead, 3000 Years was a unique surprise with its meandering philosophizing about life and love, coupled with the impeccable visuals and production design one expects from a maestro like Miller.

3000 Years of Longing follows a narratologist named Alithea (Tilda Swinton), a lonely middle-aged scholar who finds comfort in her solitude. She frequently travels to exotic lands to explore history and culture and is sometimes visited by figments of her imagination, who might be her only acquaintances in a solitary life. On a visit to a market in Istanbul, she purchases a bottle that contains a djinn (Idris Elba) who will grant her three wishes.

Miller fills the screen with exotic visuals and fantastical stories from the ancient world for the first half of the film. The djinn recounts his 3000-year-old incarceration and the tragedies of the people who found him over the millennia. He talks of ancient empires, dynasties and his relationships with the people who found him at their service. Alithea listens intently to these stories, for she knows, being a narratologist, that all stories of djinn and their three wishes are cautionary tales. Whatever she wishes for, it’s going to go wrong. 

The second half is a wild change from the storytelling of the first. As the djinn tells all his stories, Alithea overcomes her dilemma and makes her first wish — a rather surprising one that I’m not going to spoil. From here on out, 3000 Years of Longing transcends into something quite different. It becomes ambiguous and abstract, as Alithea and the djinn’s relationship takes an unexpected turn. It becomes extremely subjective and will be a different experience for each viewer, for there are countless interpretations of the plot and the character’s actions.

This is why 3000 Years of Longing is a difficult film to write about. It carries a different meaning for everyone because Miller takes you on a bold journey, with no guarantee that it will be a satisfying one. Personally, I am a fan of plots devolving into philosophical fantasies that may not make sense but are still filled with ideas that keep you thinking for days, so I enjoyed the film greatly. 

Furthermore, Swinton and Elba handle the fantastical nature of the plot with immense subtlety, anchoring the audience firmly in the muddled world of the movie. Elba is particularly artful in bringing the djinn’s complex character to life as he reflects the tragedy of a man whose intense desire cursed him to an eternity of servitude and solitude. The rest of the cast, portraying a diverse collection of mythological and historical characters, fill the screen with authenticity, instantly transporting the audience from Alithea’s hotel room to the exotic locations and eras of the djinn’s stories.

3000 Years of Longing truly is something that you will have to see for yourself. I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it, but I can say with certainty that it will be a refreshing experience in this world of exhaustingly predictable superhero and action movies. Miller brings something new and bold onto the screen with his medley of fantasy, philosophy and cinematic eye for stylized visuals.

I highly encourage you to go to the theaters and experience the film as it was intended. Regardless of how you feel about it, I am positive that, as it has captured me, it will also engross you in its ideas and questions for days afterwards.

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