Smoothie reviews the latest film by legendary Australian director, George Miller.
Would it be out of line to suggest that George Miller might be the finest pure filmmaker working right now?
I’m not saying that his movies are perfect (although Mad Max: Fury Road might be as close to a perfect film as I’ve ever seen) or even that he’s above the occasional dud.
However, when it comes to the fundamental science of filmmaking, I’m struggling to think of anyone better than Miller. He knows where to put the camera. He knows when to cut. He knows how to get the best out of his actors.
For whatever else you can say about post-apocalyptic car chases, dancing penguins and talking pigs, there’s no doubting the man’s technique.
This mastery of technique is exactly what made Three Thousand Years of Longing such a conflicting experience for me.
Adapting The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by British author, A. S. Byatt, Three Thousand Years of Longing follows Tilda Swinton as Doctor of narratology, Alithea Binnie.
While attending a conference in Istanbul, Dr. Binnie accidentally releases a Djinn (played by everyone’s favourite future Bond, Idris Elba) who, naturally, offers her three wishes in order to set him free.
But given her knowledge of myths, Dr. Binnie is sceptical of the Djinn’s offer. She knows how these stories usually go.
Determined to win his new master’s trust, The Djinn recounts three stories from his life before Alithea finally makes her wish.
True to my earlier gushing, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a beautifully made movie. The frame is just oozing with colour and imagination.
Miller and his team move us through history, exploring vibrant locales and characters. The cinematography and editing combine with some of the best visual effects I’ve ever seen to create works of art in every frame.
I even found myself enjoying the unusual pace of the film.
Yet despite this, there was this nagging discomfort that plagued the experience for me.
The power of stories is a big theme in Three Thousand Years of Longing, so I have to ask the question:
Are these Miller’s stories to tell?
This movie by an Australian director adapts a British author’s book who in turn, adapts myths and legends belonging to a culture fundamentally divorced from these modern storytellers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly no expert on the academic theory of Orientalism. Nor am I questioning Miller’s intentions with this film. He clearly has immense love for the stories he’s adapting.
And we can pretty easily rationalise this entire endeavour as the protagonist shares our filmmaker’s perspective as a Westerner experiencing a different culture.
It never hides whose voice is telling the story.
And yet, that discomfort still remains.
No matter the rationale, there’s just no way for me to reconcile the separation between the eyes of the storyteller and the cultures being depicted.
I think the best example of this is the love story between the Djinn and Alithea.
The slave-master relationship necessary for these characters to meet at all, combined with the Djinn’s fear of spending thousands more years trapped in the bottle, certainly casts doubts over his willingness to participate in the relationship.
Even with the best of intentions, the image of a white master with clear and profound power over an enslaved black man is always going to be… loaded.
But it’s not framed this way. The camera wants us to believe in their love as nothing short of pure and real.
There’s an argument to be made that this was the point. That we’re supposed to feel uncomfortable about the relationship, in turn questioning the internal racism of romanticising cultures we don’t actually understand.
But remember, not just anyone made this movie. This is George Miller – the finest pure filmmaker working today.
If this was his intention, his camera would have told us.
Three Thousand of Years of Longing is a wonderfully made film with the best intentions. It’s technically so good that I can’t fathom giving this movie less than three smoothies.
But that nagging discomfort isn’t going away any time soon. It seems destined to remained trapped within the walls of this otherwise beautiful film…
Like a Djinn in a bottle.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is in cinemas now.
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