Three Thousand Years of Longing, the latest film from Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller, tells a story that contains many more: An academic played by Tilda Swinton meets a Djinn played by Idris Elba while attending a conference in Istanbul. He offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom, but this presents two problems — the first of which is that she doubts he exists.
As a scholar of mythology, she also knows the many ways of how wishes can go wrong. So he beguiles her with stories of his past, which introduce us to characters like the brilliant and manipulative Queen of Sheba, reigns like that of the Ottoman Empire, and stunning locales like a harem bath. In a new exclusive featurette, which you can watch above, Miller and his team explain how they brought it all to life.
The film is based on A.S. Byatt’s 1994 short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” which Miller describes as “a story that seemed to probe many of the mysteries and paradoxes of life, and so succinctly.” His production company, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, bought the rights to the story in the late 1990s, and Miller collaborated on the screenplay with Augusta Gore.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is very different from Mad Max: Fury Road.
“Fury Road was mostly set outdoors, this film is mostly indoors,” he says in the new film’s production notes. “Fury Road had little dialogue; in this film a large part of the action happens through the discourse between Alithea [Swinton] and the Djinn. Fury Road played out in a compressed time frame – three days and two nights. This story happens over three thousand years.”
For producer Doug Mitchell, who also produced Mad Max: Fury Road, Happy Feet and Babe with Miller, Three Thousand Years of Longing “is a uniquely original movie. It has elements of action, adventure, historical epic, but at its core the film explores what’s real and what’s fantasy. And then, above all, it’s about love: the mystery of love.”
Mitchell adds that “the nature of George is he doesn’t repeat himself. He loves trying something new. He owns the material. He does a massive amount of homework and studying, and he brings that to the set and shoots it. He has a tremendous inspirational quality for the crews he works with. They adore him and he adores them, and so what you get is this extraordinarily visual, articulate filmmaker.”
The film suffuses every detail with story. For example, as the Djinn tells of his relationship with the Queen of Sheba, a Biblical figure believed to have lived in modern-day Ethiopia, we note the golden strands of her dress.
“She could’ve conquered Vikings and woven a dress out of their blonde hair,” explain costume designer Kym Barrette in the video. “Each costume had to tell a lot of the story.”
The Ottoman Empire section of the film includes an empirical hall filled with lavish reds, golds, and blue-greens. A harem bath is a marvel of stone architecture. A bedchamber is covered with fur, from the floor to the walls.
“I’d love the audience to see the kind of effort that we put into the imagery in the theater,” says Miller.
In the featurette, we can at least get a sense of it.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is now in theaters.
Main image: Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba talk with director George Miller on the set of Three Thousand Years of Longing.