Stories about storytelling are like movies about moviemaking: Inherently up their own ass. If you have to explicitly and repeatedly state that the thing you are doing matters, it comes off as insecurity at best and self-aggrandizement at worst. Plus, you’re telling people who are already reading a story or watching a movie that reading stories and watching movies is cool. Yeah, no doy?
The entire point of “Three Thousand Years of Longing (TTYL)” is that narratives matter. The film repeats this mantra often while presenting a narrative that is wholly inconsequential. Is that ingesting irony or just visually swallowing a jagged little pill? After the impossible majesty of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” writer/director George Miller could legally do whatever he wanted, including claiming any of the 50 United States. He chose to make a sleepy meta-fairy tale with Tilda Swinton instead. You really lucked out this time, Nevada.
Based on AS Byatt’s short story collection, Miller and cowriter Augusta Gore’s adaptation is vibrant, purposeless eye-candy that wanders through famous myths and cautionary tales with 0.00% new insight. When tales have been told for a few millennia, rebooting them is a special kind of tedium. Swinton’s character, Alithea, disagrees. We know this because she repeatedly says as much. She’s a scholar whose expertise is in narratology. See Grandma, there was a dumber degree!
At a conference, Alithea stumbles upon a bottle in which a Djinn (Idris Elba) has been stuck off and on for the titular amount of time. She gets three wishes but also knows the score. Her familiarity with fables means she shan’t be laid waste by her wishes. She wants to be uber careful. So, the academic and the genie trade uneven origin stories. Always a lonely child, she wrote and drew. As a magical creature, he beefed with Solomon (Nicolas Mouawad) and repeatedly found himself at the bottom of the ocean. The Djinn regales Alithea with his tortured life, and the parables stack upon one another until they form…something?
The collective thesis seems to be that we need to be seen by and connected to others. Survival is insufficient. The problem is that’s not really what the individual vignettes are about. Plus, the resolution of “TTYL” hinges on a bond between the Djinn and Alithea that isn’t gradually built so much as blurted out. The implication is that the stories being told helped Alithea get where she wound up wish-wise. This is only possible in the same way that somebody talking about a dream they had makes you remember where you put your car keys.
I liked it? Sorry. I liked it!
To be fair, with Miller at the helm of Arabian mythology, I should have exited the theater surfing on a wave of my own drool. Yet despite the mundanity and irrelevance in its script, watching was a weird sort of simple pleasure. I expected a toaster tossed in a bathtub, but it was just a relaxing soak while thinking about harmless fluff. Even the uneven flair, from the oddly sporadic music cues to its intermittent hallucinatory sequences, wasn’t bothersome so much as it provoked a desire to see the film promised by the trailer and talent of its creator. Oh well, they can’t all flirt with Valhalla, even if Miller better take “Furiosa” there next time.
Grade = B
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Catalina Combs at Black Girl Nerds says “This film takes all the preconceived notions we have of genies and wishes and elevates them to a sophisticated, mature level. It’s a film that speaks to adults and their inner child.”
Collier “CJ” Jennings at But Why Tho? says “It does what a good movie – or rather, a good story – should do and immerses its audience in its world, to the point where they feel like they’re part of it. Miller succeeds at this every time, which only cements his status as one of the best directors working today.”
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists says “[It] is what it says on the packet; it’s a little sappy, but for most it will be satisfyingly so. It’s meta enough to not be dumb, however it does pale in the shadow of the film which it recalls the most, Tarsem Singh’s glorious ‘The Fall’ from 2006.”