Genies, or as stated in George Miller’s romantic fantasy, the Djinn, have been part of human folklore for centuries. And none more iconic than the genie of Aladdin’s lamp.
But A. S. Byatt’s short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye may add a new dimension to this legend – especially in the hands of the visionary filmmaker George Miller, who has no problem venturing into storytelling’s bizarre and grotesque side in Three Thousand Years of Longing.
As if in a fairytale, audiences are introduced to the narratologist Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton). She has traveled to Istanbul for a conference that hopes to compare the worlds of science and mythology. Yet, while the literary scholar speaks at the event and tours the city, she is haunted by spiritual beings who desire to capture her attention. This metaphysical experience culminates in the release of the Djinn (Idris Alba), who was imprisoned in a bottle Alithea purchased at the local markets. As per the tradition, he offers the lonely academic three wishes, but finds he will face a new challenge in his latest master.
Their relationship begins to unfold as each shares how they have experienced different versions of isolation and loss. George Miller taps into his love of story and has each character narrate various tales of love and suffering. Each is complemented by visually stunning and sometimes bizarre imagery that keeps one foot in reality. At the same time, the other remains in a world of imagination. A narrative method that may be lost on modern audiences, but proves to be captivating as each on-screen layer is unpacked. One that is spirited along by the exquisite verbal skills of Swinton and Alba, who manage to keep the viewer spellbound throughout the film’s first two acts. This is where they should have stopped, and things would have been satisfying, but the third act does prove to be an unfortunate afterthought that fails to support the rest of the journey.
For fans of Happy Feet or Mad Max: Fury Road, you may not recognize the director’s work in this outlandish journey through history. Yet, this career kaleidoscope is typical of the Academy Award-winning director. If there is something consistent in Miller’s career is that the unexpected should be expected, and there is always an appreciation of well-told stories. This film contains incredible images of beauty and freakish depictions of whimsy that will cause some to cheer and others to turn away in disgust. A style that is worth studying in detail, but may never appeal to the average moviegoer.
Interestingly, this is a tale of romance as it has occurred throughout the ages. Waves of emotional fantasy crash against the senses with a force that will deliver a certain level of discomfort. This might make some think that the lead characters lack chemistry. On the contrary, they embody the film’s overall message of unachievable desire and satisfaction in love. Three Thousand Years of Longing contains a brilliance that is worth discovering, even though it may not be to the liking of many.
Reel Dialogue: The Power of Storytelling
At the heart of Miller’s strange love story is a homage to the power of a well-told story. Something that has been part of the human tradition since the beginning of time. He manages to capture the essence of what each person holds within them. These two complementary elements include our insatiable need to share our stories and the eagerness to engage with tales from others’ lives. It does not matter if they are real or fiction; humanity is built on a history of well-constructed narratives.
One could argue that we are created for story by the ultimate storyteller. The very being who wrote mankind into existence continues to point us back to history, both the good and the bad. Each book, movie, screenplay or poem has an element of the metanarrative originally written by God. Whether you agree with this proposition or not, have you considered engaging the most extraordinary story ever told? That is the one of Jesus found in the Bible.
Why not start today to read about the story about and for you?
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum. Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.
Feature image: Movie publicity