An intellectual and pleasant experience overall.
Our story follows an academic named Alithea, who while traveling the world as a scholar of stories, encounters a djinn trapped in a bottle. What happens when a wish granting creature meets a modern, weary individual without wants or desires?
The advertising really, really needs to stop referring to “George Miller, the director of Mad Max: Fury Road“; while most can agree, the fourth Mad Max film is dynamite, this film is not for the same audience at all. Unfortunately the algorithm would reject such Miller movies as The Witches of Eastwick, Happy Feet, or Babe: Pig in the City! Okay, perhaps only the first example could apply here, but one should always be aware that directors can, in fact, do whatever they want.
Three Thousand Years of Longing (a title that for many will probably get replaced by The Idris Elba Genie Movie) is about as far removed from the hi-octane, explosion-filled chase of Miller’s 2015 film (and in-production films) and will immediately bore anyone who goes in with misconceptions pertaining. We follow Alithea, played wonderfully by the ever perfect Tilda Swinton, a single woman who is at peace with her life and standing in the world, as an academic studying mythologies and storytelling across the world. Quite a studious mind to so serendipitously meet face to face with a real djinn!
Of course, the story of genies and djinn are well known (when you have a popular Disney movie with one, you know it is well known) and the movie acknowledges this with Alithea’s immediate response to the djinn, played by Idris Elba. She is sceptical, and extremely weary; a mind compounded with academic study of such monkey-paw wishes throughout the centuries, as well as a personal life clamped down with (resoundingly British) contentment and, pun intended, bottled emotions.
This makes for the meat of the story. Alithea and her djinn speaking privately within a hotel room about the difficulties and quandaries of one person being allowed three wishes. Wishes that could change the face of the world, for good or ill. It is a debate most people have had, a hypothetical that is tied to personal desires and the proof of a person.
This is juxtaposed with a talkative djinn; who has seen many people suffer through their own wishes, and yet he himself is bound to the desires of others. Alithea pries out of him his history, across the many centuries, learning of his own burdens.
The two are great on set together. Elba and Swinton are two very much respected and loved actors, and seeing them both simply talking about hypotheticals, one earnest and the other studious, leads to some witty and sharp dialogue. While the film’s time-traveling narrative, showing mythic beginnings and lustrous, bloody ancient worlds of sultans and princesses gives director George Miller moments to flex with his visual flair and incredible use of colours and shot composition, the heart is with the two main characters.
Of course, with the djinn in our world, the weirdness is not reserved to the flashbacks. Effects are, at first, grandiose, but settles more into subtly as we the audience learn more about what djinns are. It is a pleasing movie, not just in cerebral wanderings but also visually.
It is a short film, running at about ninety minutes, and is based off of the book The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, a collection of short stories by A. S. Byatt. In terms of a classic djinn storyline, it is about as classic as you can get.
Certainly, the strength lies in its contemporary setting and for Swinton’s character’s background and thought processes. It dabbles briefly with what a djinn’s experience with the modern would could be like. Where it is weaker is in its overall storyline, which rears its head at the end. It isn’t very surprising what happens, and may have benefitted from a more unorthodox conclusion.
But it remains faithful to its overall tone and feel, which is mostly a comfortable affair between to characters. There are moments, very brief moments, that are given horror film treatment, and there is plenty of nudity (these things give it its 15 certification) but these are mostly to jolt the audience and add to the mythic quality of the story.
Overall, it is a nice time in the cinema. Nothing ground-breaking, but a wise and learned story with levity and dread sprinkled equally throughout.
Additional Marshmallows: It felt like a pandemic lockdown movie. Not only were there scenes with people masked, but as scenes often involved only the two leads, there was a closed, private feel to the movie. Not that this is a detriment; in fact it is the opposite. Getting good performances often requires stripping back of distracting elements!