What would you do if you were granted three wishes from a genie? That’s a question plenty of us pondered as children while watching Aladdin. George Miller’s newest film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, explores the question – what would someone do if they came across a real life genie.
Adapted from A.S. Byatt’s “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” the story follows Alithea (Tilda Swinton), a narratologist that specializes in telling stories. During a conference in Istanbul, she finds an antique bottle to take home as a gift. She unknowingly releases The Djinn (Idris Elba) while cleaning the bottle. The Djinn needs Alithea to make three wishes to free him from his imprisonment in the bottle. However, being a lover of stories, Alithea knows every tale she’s heard regarding a genie ends badly for the person making the wishes. Reluctant to make a wish, Djinn recounts incredible stories about the three times he was trapped in the bottle.
The heart of the film is the three tales that are told. Each story is a tale of betrayal, power, but mostly importantly they’re stories about love. Love is the through line in every story told. The stories are shown through visually stimulating sequences that are narrated by The Djinn. Those short stories are sprawl through time and do a wonderful job brining you into the Djinn’s world. The tales also beg for anyone listening to feel sorry for how unlucky he’s been.
Having Djinn’s tales juxtaposed with Alithea’s hesitancy to make a wish is brilliantly done. After listening to a brutal story of love and betrayal, you can see on Alithea’s face that she’s not sure making a wish I what she wants to do, yet the Djinn persist because his freedom is tied to it.
The heart of the story is the will they/won’t they make a wish between Alithea and the Djinn during the first 2 ½ acts of the film. It’s incredible storytelling within a story. Elba and Swinton are fantastic in those scenes as they begin to warm up to each other after each story that’s told.
Unfortunately during the end of the third act is when the story goes off a cliff…the story going nowhere is a more accurate description. At one point Alithea and Djinn leave the Istanbul hotel and the heart of the story leaves with them. This decision takes the wind out of the story. It’s a finale that has no energy, nothing interesting, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Each story Djinn told ended with a “wow” moment. For some reason, the actually story he’s in ends in a whimper.
Three Thousand Years of Longing’s ending is so disappointing, it makes it hard to appreciate the rest of the film for what it is. Like A Whole New World, the beginning of the film showed us a dazzling place we never knew. The film brought us into a world of magic and wishes that was like nothing I’ve seen in film before. All of that good will is wasted with a finale fit for a CW family drama.