Three Thousand Years of Longing
Director: George Miller
Writer: George Miller, Augusta Gore
Based on: A. S. Byatt‘s short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba
Seen on: 13.9.2022
Content Note: orientalism, fatmisia, ableism
Alithea (Tilda Swinton) is a narratologist, studying the meaning and function of stories. She travels to Istanbul for a convention where she finds an old bottle at the market. She buys it as a souvenir. When she tries to clean it, she can’t believe it when an actual Djinn (Idris Elba) comes out of the bottle. He needs her to make three wishes. She knows how the stories about wishing end up, that they’re all cautionary tales. So the Djinn tries to convince her by sharing his life story.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is a beautiful, romantic fairy tale that I found honestly engaging and incredibly lovely despite its orientalism and a sequence of fetishizing fatness.
That Three Thousand Years of Longing is Miller’s follow-up to Mad Max: Fury Road seems incongruent to say the least. But there are things that unite them both, as different as they may be: a lavish sense of style, and romantic optimism and a positive view of humanity even under the worst circumstances or when cruelty seems to overwhelm: there is still love and hope even at the worst moments. Plus, there is quite a bit of blood.
Setting the story in the Middle East (most of it takes place in Turkey, but not entirely) and combining it with fantasy elements, it seems pretty much unavoidable that the film reproduces orientalism. So your mileage will vary on how much of that you can stomach. I, as a white European, could still fall into the beautiful way these things were set in scene, and thought that the orientalist parts were offset at least slightly by the thread of humanity that runs through it. Where that mitigation didn’t work for me was with the storyline of the fat brother of the king. He has a learning disability and a fetish for fat women. And to me as a fat woman, it was really fucking hurtful that the one time we get to see fat, naked bodies in a sexual context in a mainstream film, it is framed as both a fetish and as something that seems almost part of the disability of the fetishizer. It’s a weird framing, ableist and fatmisic at the same time.
One could also argue that the film’s insistence that Alithea is lacking something in her solitary life ignores that there are people that are genuinely happy with living life on their own and without a romantic relationship (like me!). But in this case, I thought that the film makes very clear that Alithea isn’t actually aromantic, but that she has settled into that life for fear of being hurt and for fear of great emotions.
And it’s those emotions that she rediscovers through her conversation with the Djinn, and it’s a beatiful, touching journey, wonderfully portrayed by Elba and Swinton, and emphasized by the absolutely fantastic soundtrack. It’s a fantasy world and a romance to sink into and let yourself be carried away with it.