If the story of your life was told by another, would it be a great tale involving the taming of wild beasts and passionate love affairs, would it rattle off the far-flung places you’ve explored, or would it be a collection of various kindnesses you’ve experienced first-hand or done for others? Even those of us too timid, lacking in temerity to embolden ourselves let alone others, still have within ourselves tales of conquests won and battles lost. From director/co-writer George Miller, the mind behind the warboys clamoring for Valhalla, and co-writer Augusta Gore comes a film about stories, the ones which catalogue our lives and the ones we tell ourselves in order to make it through each passing day. Their project, the Tilda Swinton/Idris Elba-led Three Thousand Years of Longing, landed in theaters in August with mostly a thud, largely, I suspect, because the marketing implied a rip-roaring time-traveling adventure instead of a smaller story about the ways in which longing tortures us all, over and over, throughout time, yet having experienced love at all is worth the pain that accompanies it. Bereft of any kind of bonus materials, Three Thousand Years of Longing comes home courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and, with a little luck, may find the audience it deserves.
If you’re looking to learn about Three Thousand Years of Longing in a spoiler-free capacity, I recommend checking out the original spoiler-free theatrical review. Moving forward, everything is fair game to discuss and explore.
Narratologist Dr. Alithea Binnie (Swinton) collects stories to understand them and to explain them, but tends to view them without the magic and wonder that they originally intended. While on a trip to a conference, Alithea stops in at a shop in Istanbul where she purchases a glass bottle that may, itself, possess a story. What she doesn’t realize is that the bottle doesn’t contain a story, but three thousand years of stories in the form of a trapped djinn (Elba) whom she releases from captivity entirely by accident. The djinn, desperate for his freedom from the bottle, promises Alithea three wishes of her heart’s desire, but the narratologist is wary given the reputation of djinn and proclaims that there’s nothing she wants. In an effort to convince her otherwise, he shares with her tales of his life and the various ways in which love and longing have kept him captive.
I’m going to begin by addressing my greatest frustration with this home release: the lack of bonus materials. There’s no commentary track, no behind the scenes materials, no interviews, not even a trailer. It’s just the film. Granted Longing didn’t resonate with audiences or critics as strongly as one would expect with Miller at the helm, but, what a waste not to grant those who did enjoy the film some way in which to deepen the appreciation or to create an opportunity for those willing to give the film a second chance the ability to really understand what it is that Miller and Gore were seeking to accomplish. As someone whose theatrical experience was marred by faulty plumbing, being able to watch the film at home, sans distractions and with captions on, I found greater understanding and, therefore, a deeper appreciation for the film itself.
Another important thing to be aware of is that the home release marketing for Longing may be misrepresenting itself. The image provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to advertise the upcoming home release, as well as the slipcover that accompanied the retail review copy indicates that the Blu-ray edition includes both a DVD and a digital copy. For those like myself who enjoy having a DVD to ensure I can view the film anywhere that plays discs, I love the idea of the triple format option. Unfortunately, the retail review copy only includes the Blu-ray disc and the digital code. I’ve reached out to the reps at WBHE to find out what is correct and will update this home release review should I receive official word at any point. Needless to say, those who see the advert or the slipcover will be mightily upset at the miscommunication.
The marketing set up Longing to be a hyper-colored manic fantasy that journeys through time whereas the final film is far more contemplative and story-driven. Audiences likely expected Aladdin, when, instead, they were given Idris’s djinn in a Scheherazade role, a storyteller at the helm of a grand tale spanning three centuries. Perhaps, with a shift in expectation, audiences and critics alike would’ve been more receptive to a film that’s as rich and textured thematically as it is visually. Thankfully, watching the film at home allowed for control of my surroundings (unlike the terrible theatrical experience I had) so that I could do exactly that, immerse myself in the world Miller created, better able to enjoy the beauty and cruelty within. Additionally, without the expectations set, I was able to give myself to the story more easily, able to recognize that the stories djinn tells are both truthful but also pleas of compassion and understanding. When Alithea points out that each story he tells is an example of people’s wishes backfiring on them, he retorts that each also exemplify his failures. One can interpret as djinn trying to keep Alithea on his side, but my read on it is someone who just desperately wants control back in his life, having lost it so long ago. Diving deeper, there’s an interesting notion of one being a slave to one’s longing (djinn was captured by King Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad) because of djinn’s broken heart when Sheba (Aamito Lagum) married Solomon) which occurs to djinn over and again. In contrast, Alithea is so blocked off, so academic, that her longing appears to her through visions she casts off as little more than inconveniences. The audience doesn’t fully understand this when Miller introduces the two djinn that appear before her (the first at the airport pointing her to Istanbul and the second at the conference who calls her out when she disparages the importance of storytelling), but start to when Alithea tells the story of her imaginary friend who comforted her. Alithea is the version djinn tried to be when trapped for over two thousand years in the bottle: denying to herself what she wants in an attempt of self-preservation.
Admittedly, if one opts not to dive deeper into the narrative, there’s some uncomfortable optics with the African/Middle Eastern-appearing djinn being enslaved with his final master being a White woman. There’s some disquiet in their relationship as she makes her first wish be known and it’s that djinn falls in love with her, making him a forced lover versus the kind of willing one he was to both Sheba and his previous master Gülten (Ece Yüksel). When the story introduces Alithea’s xenophobic neighbors, the stench of the forced pairing grows larger, so it’s a small comfort that, soon after, Alithea releases djinn, especially upon realizing how the being made of fire is being tortured almost to the point of dissolution by the electromagnet waves that overwhelm him from modern living. The optics aren’t great, but the narrative is never really about race or time, it’s about love and the way it makes us slaves to whomever holds our hearts, causing us to do great things, horrible things, destructive things, and beautiful things. Each story is somehow more tragic than the last, though at least Miller and Gore offer some sense that things will work out better for Alithea and djinn than it will for the characters in the stories djinn tells.
I wondered in my initial review how well the film would work for me on a second viewing. This is mostly due to the major disruption of a water pipe that kept flushing in the walls of our theater and a little to do with the film being different than anticipated. With both addressed, Longing is even more lovely and wonderful. I’m able to connect some of the thematic dots that didn’t make sense the first time, and am better able to follow the central thesis of both djinn’s tales and the film as a whole. Not only that, I’m better able to absorb the fine cinematography, production design, costuming, and score. In so doing, as Alithea is so swept up in the wonder of djinn by the end of his three tales, so are we, filled with a longing to have our tales be as epic and filled with love so that our lives will be worthy of stories.
No bonus materials included with this home release.
Available on digital November 4th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray November 15th, 2022.
For more information, head to United Artist Releasing’s official Three Thousand Years of Longing webpage.