Three Thousand Years Of Longing (2022)

The cinema poster for Three Thousand Years Of Longing. Idris Elba towers behind Tilda Swinton, around the edges of the frame are assorted historical figures.

I missed this in the cinema so I gave an excited but slightly worried squeak when I saw it had come on to Amazon tonight. Would I like it?

Since my life isn’t long enough to waste writing negative reviews, you know that I loved it.

I was looking forward to it because I’m a huge fan of George Miller. You know, the guy who wrote and directed the Mad Max films. You say, ‘oh the ACTION director’ and then I counter with Babe, Babe: Pig In The City, Happy Feet 1 & 2 and, of course he produced the outrageously overlooked The Year My Voice Broke and its sequel, Flirting. How’s that for a fucking CV? This motherfucker has more range than twenty average filmmakers.

Sheba has her very hairy legs shaved by a servant while the Djinn kisses her.

From the first narration by the, er, Narratologist, 3KYOL hooked me and each scene plunged the barbs deeper into my stupid mouth. As ever, I’m going to try and keep spoilers to a minimum but what I can talk about is the richness of this film. The basic plot you need to know is this: woman who is a professional analyst of myths finds a Djinn, a genie. And he needs her to make three wishes.

This is a film, like The Banshees Of Inishirin or Everything Everywhere All At Once, that makes you realise how truly awful most cinema blockbusters are. How pretentious, smug, asinine and hugely, hugely lazy they’ve become. And I don’t just mean Marvel and DC, though they seem to be trademarking smug complacency as a film genre lately.

A huge room full of colourfully-dressed people. A sultan has his favourite concubine drawn up by his servants.

Born into this ‘will this lukewarm vomit do?’ film culture, 3KYOL is a defiant howl, a shriek, a refutation of the erasure of wonder and intricacy from cinema. The mise-en-scene is marvellous, we’re transported from one story to the next and each is a pageant of saturated colours, and supernatural sounds, of scenes that look painted as much as filmed. The score, by Junkie XL, supports the stories incredibly well and I’ve been listening to it again whilst writing this. It’s going to be a future favourite, for sure.

But the faultless CGI, the haunting music, all would be empty bluster if it wasn’t balanced by the story. Here, the writers (Miller and Augusta Gore) weave the whole arc of the film out of a series of smaller stories that are like the courses in a sumptuous meal. You never want to stop eating as you’re enjoying each dish so much but you also want to know the whole meal, to hold the experience in your head as well as belly. I really did not want this film to be over, I loved the stories of the Djinn’s fall so much. Each had that fairytale inevitably that the best stories do; they have their own undeniable flow and power and the best writers know they can never guide them, they can only move out of the way or be drowned.

On the left, Tilda Swinton, on the right, Idris Elba with pointy ears as he is portraying a Djinn. A still from the film Three Thousand Years Of Longing.

The film (because, yes, hold on, I must remember, this is a film) uses the growing relationship of Swinton and Elba as its trunk. This could have all gone terribly wrong had either of them not had the chops or if their union had lacked chemistry. But they do and it does not. So they sell the heart of the whole film: this is a love story about love stories and about love and the love of stories. This layering, of a Narratologist telling her love story and even, as we see in a couple of scenes, occasionally lying is delightfully complex. It’s a confounding puzzle that I’m sure I will love more with each viewing as I see yet more layers I missed this first time round. The slow burn of the central couple keeps us guessing as much in their body acting as in the words they use. I loved their approach/retreat confusion, it was so endearing and thus the sweeter when it was broken. Again, layers. Swinton and Elba are adult lovers, they have a depth and realism in this fantasy film that’s sadly missing from most ‘realistic’ cinema. I can’t tell you how much it means to me, to see people acting as real lovers do. Maybe we’re only allowed to see this in fantasy now? If so, what does that say about our culture?

On the left, a woman screams, on the right some kind of spider demon gnashes its dripping maw

This film made my heart leap and soar. I wanted so, so much for the lead characters. In the sub-stories, I was entranced by every idiosyncratic detail and many of the images are now with me forever. Which is why this is great cinema. In his direction, in his storytelling about storytelling, Miller has yet again broken through the boundaries of the form without explicitly breaking the fourth wall. As much as the Everycity of Babe: Pig In The City, he’s stretching and warping what we usually accept as part of the film we are served. This is what Miller does – he’s the motherfucker that gave us Erik’s Opera and Will & Bill The Krill. He is perhaps one of the most adept living storytellers, able to operate on multiple narrative levels concurrently while others can’t even manage one.

But more importantly, this is a beautiful film about love and honesty and hurt and the things we all put away in boxes, some named, some un-named. Anyone who has ever loved and lost will see a part of their story in this film, somewhere. It’s an entreaty as much as it’s a warning, it’s an invitation to feel and be free, to take that chance and make that connection.

Does it have a happy ending?

That depends on who you are and what you want from your stories about love.