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Three Thousand Years of Longing
When Mad Max: Fury Road came out and blew everyone's minds, a lot of critics remarked that director George Miller is a grandpa and that they expected him to make patient and reflective movies now that he's in the twilight of his years. Certainly not the best and craziest action film of recent years that single-handedly revolutionized the genre at a time when such a thing was deemed to be a long shot.
Well, perhaps to appease those expectations, here comes Miller's Three Thousand Years of Longing, the existentially introspective movie that critics might have originally expected from an intellectually and emotionally complex grandpa of his ilk.
As amazing and groundbreaking as Everything Everywhere All Once is, its success will not do any favors for the audience's expectations here. In order to piggyback on that lightning in a bottle's success, Three Thousand Years of Longing's distributor MGM has crafted a marketing campaign that tries to sell the film with similar energy, a wacky and quirky madcap ride, a modernized genie in a bottle fantasy made for a similar crowd. Why not market it this way, especially when tagged with the moniker of being from the mind of the crazy fella who brought us Fury Road?
However, such an audience duped by MGM's marketing might end up disappointed when they experience a deeply profound and patient meditation on the nature of love, and the cosmic connection between science and mythology. The main plot is used as a framing device for a narratively unique and viscerally gripping 1001 Arabian Nights-style anthology:
A scholar (Tilda Swinton) who studies the connection between science and how ancient mythology interpreted scientific phenomena arrives in Istanbul for a lecture. She discovers an antique bottle at the bazaar and upon rubbing it, of course, a giant djinn (Idris Elba) pops out.
The djinn tells the scholar that she needs to make three wishes, but the scholar, who is well versed in all myths and fables about this scenario across many stories and many cultures, knows that none of these stories ever end up well and that they are always used as a cautionary tale against greed and selfishness.
So, she refuses to make a wish until she gets to know the djinn better, which leads to the djinn telling her three distinct and equally touching stories of longing. He tells her how he fell in love with a different master every time he was summoned during the last three thousand years, each story carrying with it one more piece of the key to this fable.
The story segments themselves are awash with Miller's unique imagination that blends the mischievous quirkiness about human nature and a beautiful reverence for it. Even though the film boasts a 60 million dollar budget, an awesome amount for such a personal and borderline experimental project, Miller's use of CGI locations and some of the CG effects could have used a bit more work, especially when it comes to some of the compositing.
But I'd rather have unique artistry and imagination over photo-realistic special effects in the service of a dull and predictable story any day. What really makes these stories special is Miller's insistence on exploring the science behind the mythology. Say what you will about the film's originality, but I doubt that you've ever seen a detailed breakdown of a djinn's chemical components.
Like the scholar's mission at the center of the contemporary setting, Miller deftly explores the interconnectedness of science and myth, and how one always informs the other. Even in modern times when much can be explained through science, humanity still needs stories to relate to one another as a desperate but charming way of explaining the nature of our baffling existence.
Once the anthology structure is over, Miller settles into a touching romance that takes a deeper dive into the themes of technology versus tradition, leading to a profoundly touching finale that is equally wistful and logical.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com