Djinn & Tonic
Years Of Longing
Directed by George Miller
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
I’ve not got a very good track record with the films of George Miller, to be honest. Of the eight I’ve seen, only Mad Max 2 - The Road Warrior and his segment of Twilight Zone The Movie were worth crossing the street for... unless there was heavy traffic in the way, in which case not even then. So I’m extremely pleased to say I’ve now seen Three Thousand Years Of Longing and so discovered that Miller had an absolute masterpiece in him after all.
Based on a novella length short story by A. S. Byatt called The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, I will give you now my customary warning that, no, I haven’t read the source material and so I can’t tell you in the slightest how good the film is as an adaptation. I can only respond to it, without that particular baggage, in terms of its engagement as a film.
The story tells of the somewhat isolated, or perhaps that should be muffled, personality who is Alithea, played by the great Tilda Swinton with a striking Northern accent (at least that’s what I hear it as). Alithea is a well respected Narratologist, someone who studies narratives... or stories, I guess... and makes deductions and conclusions about the way they are used and perceived by humanity. The film opens with her going to Istanbul to be a guest speaker at a World Of Narratology conference, booked into the local hotel in their Agatha Christie room, where the late writer wrote Murder On The Orient Express. However, after a couple of bizarre visions which I’m still not sure about (or at least in terms of how they tie in with this particular narrative) she finds herself in a nearby antique shop. Here she takes a shine to an old bottle which is purchased for her as a souvenir of her visit. It’s in the hotel room when she is cleaning said bottle, rubbing it briskly with a toothbrush, that the stopper is finally pulled and a genie or djinn is released into her room, in the form of another great actor, Idris Elba. He, of course, offers her three wishes.
Now, Alithea, who knows the cautionary tales of all the prior, ancient Djinn stories involving three wishes... knows that this concept rarely goes well for the person making the wishes. She at first refuses to wish at all and, as she and the Djinn get to know each other, they start swapping stories and she learns, through beautifully recreated flashbacks, of the circumstances surrounding this particular Djinn’s three prior bottle incarcerations and various releases. And I’m not telling you where it goes from there but, this is one of those films which is, adventures and magic aside, a good solid romantic movie. I don’t often take to those, they usually have to be really good or really intriguing... two qualities that this film possesses in spades.
And it’s just a beautifully shot, well put together movie about the nature of humans and their relationship to stories and their unfolding. The structure is such that we have Tilda Swinton doing voice-over narrative and talking directly to the audience to tell her present story and, in a lot of the sections, Idris Elba doing voice-over narrative as the Djinn, relaying his tale to Alithea. And it works really well and reflects as much on the nature, traps and pitfalls of romantic relationships as much as the way in which narratives can give insight into the nature of reality.
It also has some great lines in it... the writing is superb and I had to wonder how much of that came from the original short and how much if it is original to the movie. My favourite moment in regards to the dialogue, was when Tilda Swinton, playing this great, no nonsense powerhouse of intellectual thinking, tells the Djinn... “I’m a literary scholar. We don’t understand much.”
The film also has a truly wonderful score by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), sadly not released on a proper CD... because why would they want to release a superb, richly orchestrated score like this on the most popular form of physical media so people can listen to it properly, eh?
And I don’t have much else to say about this one because it’s one of those truly wonderful, damn near perfect movie experiences but, I will say I was astonished and gleefully happy that, during her lecture on the use of narrative, Alithea has two big slides of super-hero artwork from both DC and Marvel side by side... not a crossover you would expect to see in a modern cinematic landscape, I guess. At least not yet (yeah, it’ll be coming).
And that’s me done with Three Thousand Years Of Longing. If you respond well to romantic movies, in both the modern sense and the original usage of the word as used to describe imagination and inventiveness in storytelling, then you surely won’t be disappointed in this one. It’s a lovely, moving and somewhat fast paced piece of cinema which truly is a spectacle and should be on every cinephile’s ‘to watch’ list. This one’s really wonderful.