Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Augusta Gore, A.S. Byatt
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Erdil Yasaroglu
2022 was, to me, the year of pushing the boundaries of storytelling—particularly in film. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once created one of the most audacious experiences in recent memory.
Barbarian jolted the horror genre with a complete subversion of expectations (and though it is uneven, I could not in good conscience make a Top Ten list without at least giving it a shout-out). Even a film like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio fundamentally crashed through the barriers of what was once a traditional fairy tale and crafted a tale about existential crises under the mounting pressure of fascism. In my finest days as a creative—the days of few and far between in which I feel I have accomplished something—I consider myself a storyteller.
And so it would seem only fitting to me to list my personal favorite film of 2022 as Three Thousand Years of Longing, a film so vital to the interconnected threads between storytelling and love, a movie so brutally honest about the necessity for each of these ideals to be intrinsically tied.
What makes Three Thousand Years of Longing so palpable is its ability to craft a story centered on the fundamental principle of the interconnectivity between storytellers and empaths. It presents a thesis that language is bred from our inherent desire to communicate, and that this desire is exactly as inexplicable as love. We do not know why we love. We theorize. But it is inherent. We do not know why we tell stories. We theorize. But it is inherent. Three Thousand Years of Longing bridges two lives—that of a narratologist, one who studies the legacy of stories, and a Djinn, an entity whose stories are as vital as breathing.
The narratologist reflects on her afflictions with asthma, a disease that quite literally prevents breathing. Her saving grace, of course, was her relationship with her imaginary friend. The stories her mind told herself quite literally gave her breath just as Djinn defines love through the stories he tells. Through this foundation, we embark on a love story watching in real time as stories and love become interlinked just as breath is linked with life in our bizarre existence. In many ways, it’s an ambitious story—even more so than Miller’s previous masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road, which pushed the boundaries of technical precision to groundbreaking heights.
In this quieter, much more intimate epic, we see mainly two people, both a bit neglected by the world and looking for solace in the stories they tell, both perplexed by the world finding less and less use for storytellers in the digital age. The antagonist of our story here becomes less the forces that neglect these two as individuals, but rather the forces that keep people from one another. At times, it can seem that the world wants us distanced.
Distance, it commodifies our desire for codependent thought. Place two people in a room and they learn from their experiences—their stories. But separate them with a screen, divide them by ideals heard from others who ego-driven monarchs decide are more important, and suddenly they lose their capacity for love.
The world is still full of stories, but they become less important than the propaganda noise that drowns them out. Individual experiences are suddenly measured against a wall of collective consensus, and through this lens of judgment, they are found wanting. It’s a lie, of course, told to us over and over again because we do not yet know how to break from the cycle. Yet we feel the break each time we sit with a loved one, a wizened family member, or an empathic child with wondrous eyes, and we hear them tell a story.
We relate with an emotional understanding and removed from the pressures of the world, we unconsciously find ourselves lost in them. We tell our own stories in return. We talk about our days or we tell them what they have made us think about. And stories suddenly become love. The most impressive thing about Three Thousand Years of Longing is that this incoherent review is not even an accurate representation of the film itself. It is certainly the idea behind the film, but it is not the story told to us through Miller’s beautiful lens.
The film itself is an intimate tale that sprawls over time. It tells fantasies with the grounded realism of a serialized story. It gives Idris Elba pointy ears and hairy legs and refuses to even bat an eye at this being a novel idea. It, quite simply, pushes the boundaries of storytelling in a film about storytelling. It demands that its audience take it as seriously as it takes itself. As with Daniels’ film, that’s not always an easy ask.
Sometimes, we are not ready for stories that are too far beyond our realm of comprehension. Understanding that limitation within us is not a bad thing. But we must always strive to be open because we never know when the next great story will redefine our existence and make us want for something more. Three Thousand Years of Longing is immaculate even if it is not perfect. The pacing of the film is downright bizarre.
This in tandem with the ambitious severity that it uses to present its fantastical world leads me to the natural conclusion that this is a film that cannot be made by anyone other than Miller who has nothing more to prove to the world about his own genius. As the third act careens in far too speedily for a story that methodically gives space for characters to dictate their passions and thoughts, the instinctual reaction is discomfort. But on the other side of this feeling is a film that poetically crafts a synonymous tie between stories and love.
It’s a film steeped in the richest lore of all—the lore of our world. It takes our own fantastical ideas and commits to them with a bravery unmatched by most other filmmakers. It crafts its landscapes with lavish production design and vital visual effects that feel integral and special in a movie that ultimately is about two people in a small room.
Its visuals are outdone only by the poetic work of the actors in the frame who take such delicate care to make each word a work of art. Three Thousand Years of Longing is the type of movie that reaffirms to me why I have such a strong desire to tell stories. The fact that it is uneven only makes me love it more.
Sometimes, the best stories are flawed masterworks, effortlessly revitalizing passion within us because their ambition is too great to be tamed by adherence to structural rules. 9/10