Genies have been part of human folklore for centuries. None are 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 genie legend – especially in the hands of visionary filmmaker George Miller.
The Australian behind Mad Max and Babe has no problem venturing into storytelling’s bizarre and grotesque sides in Three Thousand Years of Longing.
As if in a fairytale, audiences are introduced to Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a narratologist.
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). Yes, he’s a genie imprisoned yonks ago in a bottle… that Alithea purchased at a local market.
As per the genie tradition, The Djinn offers the lonely academic three wishes but finds he will face a new challenge in his latest master.
The relationship between Alithea and The Djinn begins to unfold, as each shares how they have experienced different versions of isolation and loss.
Miller taps into his love of story and has his central characters narrate various tales of love and suffering.
Each vignette is complemented by visually stunning and sometimes bizarre imagery which keeps one foot in reality, the other in a world of imagination.
Although this narrative method may be lost on modern audiences, it proves captivating as each on-screen layer is unpacked.
Also helping to spirit along Three Thousand Years of Longing are the exquisite verbal skills of Swinton and Alba, who manage to keep us spellbound during the first two acts.
This is where Miller’s adult fairytale should have stopped, and things would have been satisfying.
However, the third act proves 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 recognise the Oscar-winning director’s work in this outlandish journey through history.
If there is something consistent in Miller’s career, it is that the unexpected should be expected, and there always is an appreciation of well-told stories.
Three Thousand Years of Longing contains incredible images of beauty and freakish depictions of whimsy which 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 George Miller’s strange love story is a homage to the power of a well-told story. This is something that has been part of the human tradition since the beginning of time.
Miller manages to capture the essence of what each person holds within them. These 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.
Feature image: Movie publicity
About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.