By Liv Barry
George Miller’s newest epic “3000 Years of Longing” is a tribute to the loneliness that is sown by isolation.
Based on A.S. Byatt’s 1994 short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” the film follows Alithea Binnie (played by Tilda Swinton), an academic studying myth and narrative, who travels to Istanbul for a conference. In her opening narration, Binnie describes herself as a perfectly content “solitary creature,” with no family, few friends, and a distant ex-husband.
While in Istanbul, Binnie happens upon a worn bottle in an antique shop. After taking it home, she discovers that the bottle is home to a Djinn (played by Idris Elba).
From there, the story flies into a narrative of the love, loss, and pain Djinn has experienced during his time serving patrons.
While the stories that Djinn weaves are not based in actual myth, Miller and his co-screenwriter Augusta Gore craft timeless stories of heartbreak and yearning that feel as if they were passed down through generations.
Elba’s performance as Djinn is grounded in humanity, reminding both Binnie and the audience that no one, not even an immortal, wish-granting being, is exempt from loneliness.
However, the story begins to fall apart towards the end of the second act when the film attempts to advance Binnie and Djinn’s friendship into a romance.
At this point, the audience knows 3,000 years worth of history about Djinn, but knows little about Binnie besides her self-described isolationist tendencies and her failed marriage.
While Swinton did the best job she could with the material she was given, her performance did not extend very far beyond the caricature of a stiffly repressed academic. Where Djinn is rich in history and character, Binnie is totally flat. This dynamic does little to make the audience believe the romantic and sexual tension that is pushed onto the characters.
Their romance continues through the third act, breaking the story’s structure to take the audience from Istanbul to Binnie’s home in London.
While in London, the film becomes disorienting. Binnie and Djinn are granted a fairytale ending, but without the typical structure of the myths that the film wants to follow.
The structure leaves for a strange ending, but the underlying message of “3000 Years of Longing” hits close to home in a world still suffering the effects of COVID-19.
“3000 Years of Longing” had to halt production two weeks into filming to obey lockdown procedures in March 2020. Filming resumed in December of 2020, and the presence of masks throughout the film gives it a layer of subtext that would not have been there prior.
Djinn and Binnie’s feelings of loneliness are heightened by the presence of COVID-19. As Binnie lectures to a crowd of masked.
The audience can also feel the weight of the pandemic in the questions of compatibility the film explores. During the film’s third act, Djinn’s compatibility with the modern human world is brought into question multiple times.
When traveling back to London, Djinn’s bottle is confiscated by airport security and run through an X-ray, leaving Binnie and the audience wondering if Djinn’s supernatural form can survive. Once settled, Djinn begins to disintegrate into pieces because his form cannot withstand the human world.
These moments bring into question how compatible our pre-COVID-19 lives are in a “post-COVID-19” world. While we continue to force ourselves back to “normalcy,” one cannot help but wonder how sustainable it is to return rather than adapt to a new world.
While “3000 Years of Longing” might not have set out to be a commentary on how COVID-19 has impacted our lives, it mirrors the questions that we are too afraid to ask.
The film has its flaws, but Miller manages to spin his epic tale into something applicable for anyone still feeling the impacts of COVID-19.