Sunday, September 11, 2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing, George Miller’s Lavish Genie Tale

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Seven years have passed since George Miller impacted the world with ten Oscar nominations and six wins for his stylish, action-packed box-office smash thriller “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015. Now, the celebrated Australian director of the “Mad Max” trilogy and “The Witches of Eastwick” presents his most intimate, ethereal, and philosophical film, “Three Thousand Years of Longing” - an eclectic and modern adaptation of the classic genie in a bottle tale.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” is a superb piece of filmmaking with striking visuals and profound emotions that move audiences to a subconscious state of mind.

Adapting from the 1994 novel by A.S. Bryatt, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” George Miller and co-writer Augusta Gore placed together a series of cautionary tales in the form of flashbacks recounted by the genie’s past experiences.

This story is about some of those experiences told by the prestigious narratologist Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton; “Orlando,” “Michael Clayton,” “I Am Love”), who is happy with her single life, although she is a lonely woman by choice and an independent scientist by profession. In the film, she narrates her findings as “a true story” – according to her experience, her trip to Istanbul was the best possible scenario for her spiritual adventure.

Tilda Swinton’s character is profoundly complex. She explores her feelings deeply - even though she is a confident woman of science who likes to take control of any situation, she is also a believer.

Upon arriving in the mystical city of Istanbul to present a conference, she finds some peculiar characters approaching her everywhere she goes. Then, she discovers the mysteries of the thousands of streets, parks, and enigmatic bazaars. As a courtesy, the hotel places her in the same room where Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express.”

During Althea’s presentation, she connects science with stories. “The stories were once the only way to make our bewildering existence coherent,” said Professor Gunhan, introducing her. She follows the reasoning confronting myths and science, helping us find the purpose of science when theology is devolving into superheroes.

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the most emblematic Turkish landmarks, with over 4,000 shops on 62 streets. While visiting such a splendid marketplace, Alithea questions her fate and how she escapes. Speaking about destiny, what will be the chances she can find, in a pile of “unsorted old and new things,” a bottle with a genie inside, also known as the “Nightingale’s Eye.” And indeed, after the finding, she takes it because, in her view, every object has an exciting story to tell.

For the time being, at the hotel’s bathroom, she washes and rubs the rare object when suddenly the mythical character of Aladdin comes to life with baggage of three experiences previously lived with the women who owned the bottles and the ones who trapped him throughout centuries before they fulfill their three wishes.

This non-Disney modern and eclectic version of “Aladdin” must be appreciated for what it is: a fable where the main characters’ actions and emotions should not be conditioned by their past experiences, lifestyle, or external situations over which they have no control - but their feelings they feel for each other are genuine in this melting pot of cultures and stories that they line in.

In a film full of contrasts, our rational-minded professor finds that she must believe in a higher power, this case, in the form of a djinn or genie, magnificently played by the talented British actor Idris Elba (“Beast,” “Beast of No Nation”). This animated, adult version of “Aladdin” realizes three wishes for Alithea, who does not want to play alone. Instead, she interrogates the djinn, who states, in an extremely long conversation, his three previous love experiences, setting the mystical and somehow romantic tone of the film.

The first story is about the desire the djinn feels for the Queen of Sheba and how her seducer, Solomon, the musician, holds the evil forces in his hands, placing him back in the bottle. The second tale is set in Constantinople during the Ottoman Empire, where Gulten is a concubine in the court of King Suleiman the Magnificent. She desires the prince’s love, but the fatal outcome for Prince Mustafa is inevitable. The final story takes us into the mid-19th Century in Turkey, where Zefir wishes for knowledge. Zefir’s second wish was never to meet the djinn, sending him to live in oblivion for another century. 

The genie’s past is relatively unimportant. What matters is the here and now and the relevance of Althea’s responses and decisions to accomplish her mission in life, helping the djinn to adapt to modern times. At the same time, it is an existential crisis that, eventually, sooner or later, all entities have to face. 

The film evokes the eternal question of what women most desire. The lead characters’ emotions evolve into affection, patience, and tolerance. They start to believe more purely in love, mysticism, and higher power. In the end, depends on us to let the djinn accomplish his mission and not let him get lost another thousand years in oblivion. 

The complexity of the long dialogues and emotions experienced between the djinn and the lucky woman who holds the bottle compels the viewer to a second or even a third watch of such a magnificent and profound film.

Violette, When Women Dare to Write  


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