Three Thousand Years of Longing is a fantasy film directed by George Miller and starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. The screenplay was co-written by Miller and his daughter Augusta Gore, from a novella by Booker-prize winning author A.S. Byatt. Longing opened in the US on August 26, 2022.
The plot: British scholar Alithea Binnie – her first name is from the Greek word for truth – visits Istanbul. Alithea (Tilda Swinton) accidentally conjures Djinn (Idris Elba). Djinn offers Alithea three wishes. Before Alithea makes her wishes, Djinn tells her the story of his life. Thus, truth meets Magic. Miller uses this fairy tale motif to interrogate mortality, love, desire, solitude, renunciation, truth, and fate.
The film has received moderately positive reviews but Variety predicts that it will be a box office bomb. Not many viewers are going to see it. I’ve seen it twice. It’s a sweet movie, and Djinn’s tales are dramatized with spectacularly beautiful images.
Oh, one more thing about Three Thousand Years of Longing. It is racist. It is orientalist. It is exoticist. It is white supremacist. It is colonialist. It is misogynist. It is fatphobic. Or so Woke reviewers insist.
I’ll argue here that Longing’s relationship between Alithea and Djinn tells us much about how our current culture understands sexual and romantic relationships between men and women. The reception of the film, and, yes, even the trailers shown before the film starts offer other insights. Spoiler warning: this piece will reveal the end of Three Thousand Years of Longing.
Longing is directed by George Miller. That Miller would make such a contemplative film about big ideas is unexpected. Miller directed or co-directed all four Mad Max films. Mad Max: Fury Road is one long chase. The virtuosically choreographed chase scenes in Fury Road are largely practical special effects, that is they were created with real vehicles, real scenery, real humans, and real explosions. Miller used a minimum of CGI, or computer-generated imagery. Fury Road is better seen than described; get a taste of its action here. Miller’s filmmaking skill wowed his fellows enough to earn Fury Road six of the ten 2015 Academy Awards it was nominated for.
Miller, in addition to the dystopian, post-apocalyptic, violent Mad Max films, produced Babe, and directed its sequel. The Babe movies are almost unbearably touching fantasies featuring an adorable pig who aspires to be a sheepdog. Miller also directed, co-produced, and co-wrote the Academy-Award-winning Happy Feet, an animated film about singing, dancing penguins. I had to see Longing to discover what such a multi-talented director would do with the intriguing material in Byatt’s thought-provoking novella.
In Three Thousand Years of Longing’s opening scenes, we discover that Alithea is a cool, isolated creature. When, during an airport reunion, a warm-hearted colleague (Erdil Yasaroglu) touches her in a friendly way, she swats him, in a way not at all friendly. When he expresses genuine concern for her after she faints, she is snippy and marches off. When he attempts to purchase a gift for her in Istanbul’s bazaar, she doesn’t even look at him.
One gets the sense that Alithea is the type of woman that other humans tolerate rather than befriend. In our diagnostic era, one wonders if this highly successful scholar has Asperger’s syndrome.
When Alithea recounts that she was a lonely child whose only friend was imaginary, and that her one brief marriage ended when her husband left her for a more responsive woman, we are not surprised. We see her gazing at the world from the window of a café, at lovers in public, and at parents with children. She looks pensive, but not particularly sad.
Alithea wears A-line skirts almost to her ankles, sweaters, long-sleeved blouses, buttoned all the way up, and flat-heeled shoes. Amidst the drab grays and blacks of her garb, Alithea also includes the occasional choice in bright red or pink. These wardrobe highlights suggest to the viewer that we don’t know everything there is to know about Alithea.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar claims many superlatives: world’s biggest … world’s oldest … world’s most popular. Its vivid, exotic sights and sounds could easily provide the stage for any retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. In all of this color, fragrance and stimuli, Alithea selects one fire-damaged glass bottle as her memento.
Alithea is staying in the Agatha Christie room of her hotel. The hotel implies that Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in this room. In charmingly fractured prose, the hotel’s website reports, The Agatha Christie Room, where many details of its epoch resume to live, is waiting for its guests to have an opportunity to feel literature wonderfully those interested in detective novels.
Alithea, dressed in a hotel bathrobe, cleans her purchase using her electric toothbrush. Out pops Djinn. Djinn offers Alithea three wishes. Unlike just about every other character ever offered three wishes, Alithea declines. She says she studies stories and she knows that wish stories are always cautionary tales. Further, she says, she is content. She is free of desire.
Djinn is flummoxed. It is only by carrying out his duty of granting three wishes that he can be relieved of the curse of imprisonment in a bottle. He tells Alithea that he was condemned to the bottle because he loved the Queen of Sheba, played by the spectacularly beautiful Ugandan model, Aamito Lagum. King Solomon competes with Djinn for Sheba’s love. Extra-biblical folklore identifies Solomon as a magician. For example, Solomon was able to converse with ants. In Longing, Solomon uses his magical powers to confine Djinn to a bottle and to claim Sheba for himself.
Elba’s performance is spectacular. No, we don’t believe in genies, but we believe Elba as Djinn. The look on his face when he tells Alithea what it was like to be trapped in a bottle for centuries is heartbreaking. Elba conveys the wounded lover world-weariness of Frank Sinatra in his Wee Small Hours mode. The viewer feels for Djinn, but also for anyone unjustly trapped in an imprisoning life circumstance by star-crossed love, injustice, and powerful schemers. Djinn is intelligent, quick, wise and dignified. Djinn shows care for his masters, all women, all of whom get him entangled in no-win love stories. In short, Elba’s Djinn is a very sympathetic figure.
Eventually Djinn’s bottle falls into the hands of a Turkish slave girl (a beguiling Ece Yüksel) who is in love with Mustafa, the sultan’s son. Thanks to Djinn, Mustafa impregnates her. Hurrem, the sultan’s favorite concubine, wants the sultan to favor her own sons. She conspires for the father to murder Mustafa, as well as his slave lover. Djinn is never able to grant this doomed girl her third wish, and he remains, again, trapped in his bottle, hidden under a heavy stone floor tile in the sultan’s palace. The historical Mustafa was indeed killed by his own father’s command, allegedly through the machinations of his father’s favorite, a former Slavic sex slave who, as depicted in the film, had red hair.
Time marches on, and a new sultan’s two sons are competitors. Ibrahim is simple-minded and unlikely to produce the necessary heir. As encouragement, his mother locks him in a fur-lined room. He has a fat fetish and the room is filled with naked fat women.
Murad, the other son, is a bloodthirsty drunk. He is shown striding a long line of kneeling prisoners of war. The viewer assumes that, after the camera looks away, the brutal prince will decapitate these prisoners. The helpless prisoners lined up call to mind photographs of ISIS’s Egyptian Christian prisoners similarly lined up and then decapitated.
Again, the details of this Djinn story are reflected in Turkey’s history. Murad IV was known for his brutality and he did drink himself to death. The film shows him killing a boatman with an arrow; one historian reports that in fact Murad used to amuse himself after dinner by going out and murdering people in the streets, or by potting boatmen or pedestrians who happened to come with range. Kosem Sultan was initially a Greek sex slave. Kosem did try to cure her son Ibrahim’s impotence through pornography and newly purchased sex slaves. She also profited from his fecklessness by assuming power herself.
After various palace intrigues, one of the fat concubines falls on the paving stone hiding Djinn’s bottle. The stone cracks. Rather than making wishes, the concubine wishes Djinn to the bottom of the Bosphorus. A fish swallows him; the fish finds its way to a household cook. Djinn’s next human master is Zefir (Burcu Gölgedar). Zefir is the youngest wife of a rich old merchant. In public, she wears niqab – that is, only her eyes are visible. At home, she inhabits a lonely tower. The old man occasionally arrives to bend her over and penetrate her from behind. She endures this with a scowl. Her wish is for knowledge, which Djinn grants her. Trapped as she is, the knowledge all but drives her mad. Though Zefir and Djinn share a torrid affair, in a moment of high emotion, she wishes she could forget ever having met Djinn. Her wish is disastrously granted. Zefir’s story, that of an intellectually gifted woman imprisoned by gender apartheid, was agonizingly painful to watch.
The film draws parallels between the fascinating women Djinn has loved over the centuries and Alithea. The Queen of Sheba, otherwise stoic, shows arousal with a subtle gulp in her throat. Alithea performs the same gulp. Hurrem has striking red hair, as does Alithea. Alithea’s knee bounces when she studies, and she runs her finger across the printed page in a distinctive way echoed by Zefir. Similarly, hanging in Alithea’s London home, before she ever meets Djinn, is a painting of her eye, under one of Djinn’s eye. These little tells inform us either that Djinn and Alithea are fated to be together, or that this is all Alithea’s imagination.
After hearing Djinn’s romantic tales, Alithea has a wish. She wants Djinn to fall in love with her, as he has fallen in love with these other women. He does so. Alithea and Djinn move to London. London’s abundance of television, radio, and cell phone signals is destructive to Djinn, as he is made of subtle fire, not dust, as are humans. Alithea releases him to live in his Djinn dimension, but every now and then he returns to visit with her. During one such visit, some boys kick a soccer ball, and Djinn kicks it back to them, suggesting that he may very well be real, and not merely a figment of Alithea’s imagination. On the other hand, Robert Pitman’s provocative analysis argues that Djinn is not real.
In reporting why I gave this lovely little film six stars rather than ten, I have to say something that is difficult for me to say. Our current, post-Christian culture is saturated with cheap sex, and if I criticize a cultural product for its treatment of sex, I’m almost always going to say that sex was used in a shallow, commercial way. Sex in contemporary culture is comparable to displayed diner cakes. The discriminating guest does not purchase them. They look good but taste fake. For me, a rewarding depiction of human intimacy is less about spendthrift availability or graphic details. It’s more about how well the scene encapsulates something human and is earned by the plot. The problem with Longing, for me, was not, as usual, a cheap slathering of ersatz sex to make an inferior product commercially viable. Rather, the problem here is the absence of sex.
Idris Elba, in addition to being a superlative actor, is charismatic, and a former Sexiest Man Alive. He’s very well cast as a hunk of burning love who has delivered supernatural satisfaction over the course of three thousand years. Tilda Swinton is charismatic as well, but she’s better suited to playing, as she often has, ethereal, androgenous beings, as she did in Orlando and Dr. Strange.
Tilda Swinton as Alithea Binnie is sexless. Not sexless as in The Sleeping Beauty, waiting for Prince Charming to awaken her with a kiss, but rather sexless as in Doesn’t much like sex and is quite happy getting along without. There are people like that. Things other than sex arouse their libido: knitting, cleaning, costuming dogs in anthropomorphic attire. Alithea Binnie’s best Prince Charming would not be smoldering Idris Elba, but, rather, Bill Nighy as a scholar in tweed who would give her a hug – and not too often – and share her breathless excitement at the perfect footnote.
Onscreen chemistry is a phenomena our scientific age has yet to explain. Rock Hudson was gay and Doris Day had some lousy marriages, including one husband who tried to beat his child out of her pregnant body and another who cheated her financially. And yet onscreen Day and Hudson were Hollywood yoni and lingam. How? Why? Who knows? Elba and Swinton never conjure an intense onscreen chemistry that would generate the kind of sacrifices that each character makes for the other.
I wish for an actress who, unlike Swinton, did not appear so very content in her isolation, but who telegraphed a scintilla of curiosity about what it would be like to surrender to Djinn’s magical seduction. I think of Katherine Hepburn as a prim missionary opposite Humphrey Bogart as a drunken expat in 1951’s The African Queen, or Deborah Kerr as Sister Angela and Robert Mitchum as a Marine stranded together on a Pacific island controlled by Imperial Japanese troops in 1957’s Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, or Greta Garbo as a rigid Soviet communist and Melvyn Douglas as a charming gigolo in 1939’s Ninotchka.
In each of those films, the female star is utterly convincing as a happily independent woman who is immune to male attraction, but who chooses to take the risky leap, succumbs, and changes. Sister Angela is still a nun at the end of Mr. Allison, but the ending suggests that the future might change that. As she tells Mitchum that, though she plans to remain in her convent, he will always be, in her heart, her dear companion, she, dressed entirely in a nun’s habit, shows more warmth to Mitchum than Swinton shows to Elba in all of Longing.
Hepburn, Kerr, and Garbo were all Golden Age actresses, but not all Golden Age actresses performed the delicate maneuver of appearing to be a contented single woman who succumbs to seduction and comes to love her seducer. When smart-talking Barbara Stanwyck and smoldering Merle Oberon were cast opposite boyish Gary Cooper, it was the women who did the seducing. Stanwyck was a corrupt journalist in Meet John Doe and a gangster’s moll in Ball of Fire. Oberon was a rich girl looking to expand her list of sexual exploits in The Cowboy and the Lady. In the end, though, virginal Cooper seduced these women right back, conquering their hearts and inspiring them to change their lives and adopt his integrity and decency.
In 1957’s An Affair to Remember, Cary Grant, a gigolo, does not seduce Deborah Kerr, a kept woman. They both surround themselves with impenetrable walls of witty but cynical repartee. On a cruise, they visit a chapel, where they are both seduced by God. We changed course today, Grant announces. They mature from frivolous, selfish manipulators to two lovers willing to give up their most precious obsessions for the other person’s well-being.
We changed course today. English majors are told that they can recognize the main character of a piece. The main character is the one who changes. Seduction into not just sex but love inevitably results in change. Neither Alithea nor Djinn change. At the end of the movie, she’s still an isolated scholar. He’s still a Djinn. Their meeting was not transformational.
I tried to think of contemporary celebrities who could carry out the above-described transformations. Impenetrable walls erected to protect the most vulnerable aspects of the self melt into permeable membranes that allow another in. The result: two opposites, male and female, cleave unto another: a new way of being human. Paradoxically, the risky vulnerability that allowed the other to penetrate protective walls strengthens the two who let their guard down. In gratitude, each protects the other through commitment and faithfulness.
Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy acted out that maneuver repeatedly in their films. In 1942’s Woman of the Year, Tracy and Hepburn aggressively spar and compete with each other, including by trying to drink each other under the table. But in one quiet scene, they occupy the back seat of a taxi cab. Hepburn sits close to Tracy and says, This is good. Tracy pulls Hepburn even closer to himself; they snuggle. This is better, he says. Hepburn’s face communicates absolute contentment.
What modern celebrities could play that scene? What modern scriptwriters could write that scene? What audiences would care about a scene that did not deliver graphic sensation?
Jennifer Lopez’s most high profile recent role was in 2019’s Hustlers. She played a stripper who drugs men and steals their money. This thief was the movie’s heroine. In 2015’s Trainwreck, Amy Schumer plays a drunk who sleeps around and does not want a committed relationship. In 2021’s Scenes from a Marriage, Jessica Chastain played the wife in a dysfunctional marriage that involves physical abuse, multiple adulteries, and obsession. The wife chooses an abortion the husband does not want. As he waits for her, he puts coins into a vending machine and receives a can of soda. He stares at the machine; the viewer is to conclude that he gets greater satisfaction, in this transaction, from a machine than from his wife. Obese Lizzo twerks her naked buttocks. Beyonce’s lyrics don’t rise above suck on my balls, middle fingers up, and the word m————. Take a look at the top box office films of 2021, the top box office stars, and the highest paid female celebrities, and tell me which movie depicts, or which performers have successfully performed, that kind of transformational, intimate interdependence of man and woman.
A lesser known actress, Sally Hawkins, has poignantly depicted a woman in love. In 2017’s The Shape of Water, Hawkins, as an Hispanic cleaning woman, is friends with a black woman and a gay man. She falls in love with a humanoid amphibian from South America who is oppressed by sadistic, white, American male heterosexuals. The cleaning woman and the lovable, oppressed, Latinx amphibian jump into a canal together. A voiceover narration assures the viewer that they remain in love happily ever after. The Shape of Water won the Academy Award for best picture, as well as three other of the thirteen awards for which it was nominated.
I’m guessing that Three Thousand Years of Longing did not depict, in a way that satisfied this viewer or many others, Alithea succumbing, in an intimately sexual way, to Djinn not just because Tilda Swinton is, again, an ethereal and androgynous screen presence, or because the character, as written, seems quite content alone. I suspect that the film could not work that particular magic because we as a society have grown suspicious of the transformational magic that occurs between a man and a woman who become one flesh in the best sense of the words. The woman would have to be shown surrendering, and the man would have to be shown mastering, and the man would have to surrender too, that is, surrender his role as a predator playing the field and wracking up conquests, and settle into an adult role as a committed helpmate, protector and provider. Investing in that narrative is just too problematical today.
I saw Longing twice, and in between I saw 1975’s Jaws, so I saw a lot of trailers, including the trailers for Smile, Barbarian, and Pearl. The trailer for Smile, evidently a gory horror film, includes an image of a decapitated head. The trailer for Barbarian promised torture in a dungeon under a suburban Detroit home. Pearl stars Mia Goth’s whose partner, Shia LeBeouf, is making headlines as a recent Catholic convert. Pearl is a nasty, bloody, sick movie, the prequel to another nasty, bloody, sick movie, entitled, simply, X. Pearl’s trailer involved Pearl feeding a helpless man in a wheelchair to an alligator. I did not see a trailer for Bones and All, the new film featuring Timothee Chalamet, a major star. The film depicts sexual cannibalism. The film includes, according to the BBC, some of the most intense sequences of graphic violence imaginable.
In the past, the Motion Picture Production Code limited how much sex or violence a film could include. The code died a slow death, and was history by 1969. Contemporary movies find it difficult to depict a masculine, heterosexual man and a feminine, heterosexual woman falling in love and deepening their love through conventional acts of physical intimacy. Sexual cannibalism, though, is something today’s movies can do, and today’s audiences buy tickets to see graphic violence pushed to the extreme. Audiences seek sensation. After audiences reject one kind of sensation – heroism, love, community – audiences lap up the most base sensation: graphic violence.
I also saw a trailer for a new Avatar. In this film, the main characters are CGI, and are blue. CGI, blue-skinned protagonists permit the filmmakers to sidestep many thorny race-related taboos. Black Adam depicts The Rock as a black man who is born a slave, dies, and is reborn as an all-powerful god. Till is the angry and lachrymose trailer for a film dramatizing the lynching of Emmett Till. The Rings of Power, based on the JRR Tolkien works about Middle Earth, features black actors. Tolkien’s inspiration, of course, was Norse, Old English, and other ancient European mythology, material that would not have featured black people. According to Elon Musk, in this new Rings, Almost every male character so far is a coward, a jerk or both. The Woman King celebrates warriors in Dahomey who protected the kingdom’s way of life. Ironically the Dahomey way of life included slavery and human sacrifice, slavery and human sacrifice that the British attempted to stop. The trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hints at an over-the-top, borderline fascist, celebration of a highly profitable black superhero and his made-up African kingdom. Wakanda, like Middle Earth, is fictional, but no one would dare station a white actor in that cinematic neighborhood. Amsterdam’s trailer was incoherent, but it was clear that it depicts a powerful friendship between a black man and a white man. The trailer for Bros is actually (what a relief) funny. It’s being advertised as the first gay romantic comedy released by a major studio and featuring an all GLBT cast. In one scene, two characters announce, OMG do you guys remember straight people? Yeah, they had a nice run.
I did see one trailer for a movie that focused on a white, male, heterosexual American character: Robert Oppenheimer. In the trailer I saw, this white man is described, as he described himself, as the destroyer of worlds.
Trailers make things very clear. Hollywood imagines itself to be ideologically left, that is Marxist, but its appetites are ravenously capitalist. Hollywood’s greed is satisfied by sniffing out popular tastes. American ticket-buyers are no longer restrained by the morals of the largely Catholic-inspired Hays Code. People will buy tickets to view extreme violence, so Hollywood churns it out, in spite of ample evidence of the correlation between violent media and violent behavior. In spite of the left’s support for gun control, Hollywood does not police its own avalanche of contributions to violent behavior. Hollywood, though, does see profit in some feints at morality, so it churns out product meant to uplift black people, and to depict white men as villainous.
With that ethic in mind, why do the Woke object to Three Thousand Years of Longing?
Longing, the Woke allege, is exoticist. What is exoticism? Exoticism is an accusation against whites for their appreciation of anything non-white. Gauguin, who painted the South Seas, is guilty of exoticism. Sir Richard Burton, who translated One Thousand and One Nights, Joseph Conrad, who wrote Heart of Darkness, Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick, and William Shakespeare, who wrote Othello, are all guilty of exoticism.
There’s no non-white analog to the exoticism accusation. Dave Chappelle imitating whites speaking is not guilty of exoticism. Guillermo del Toro, a Mexican director, depicting heterosexual American white men as sadistic oppressors of Latinx amphibians is not exoticism.
Self-exoticizing is okay. Think of the black singers Josephine Baker, who liked to be seen with a pet cheetah, and Grace Jones, photographed on all fours and growling. Think of the lyrics of Lady Marmalade a hit song by Patti Labelle. A black prostitute seduces a grey-flannel-life white man and makes his savage beast inside roar until he cried. The Black Panther movies, coopting various African costumes and dance styles, is not blameworthy. Blacks exoticizing themselves is not just acceptable; many would see it as a sign of authenticity or keeping it real.
Miller’s exoticism of African and Asian cultures could rub some people the wrong way writes Fletcher Powell of NPR. Elba speaks with a slight accent of indeterminate origin. Like his pointed ears (!) and shaved head, it flags the djinn’s exoticism, reports the Boston Globe. Miller’s story is romantic, and ironic, and fantastic, so Miller leans into the exoticism of the setting and the subject, says New York, in a positive review. But the comments become more negative.
The film’s exoticism of people of color, a problem that haunts the otherwise fantastical images Miller conjures in his imaginings of Middle Eastern countries and peoples, takes on an even more troubling edge … Elba’s character is repressed by a white woman … existing to serve her but not able to be his own person … the casting of a Black man and a white woman … casts a problematic shadow over the relationship, writes Katie Carter.
Orientalism is an accusation related to exoticism. Orientalism is more dangerous because the word has been weaponized specifically to mute analysis of Islam by Westerners. Mere mention of the word terrorist or 9-11 can be silenced with accusations of orientalism. Any accurate depiction of a harem, of veiled women, of sultans, janissaries, or slave markets can be written off as orientalism. Lawrence of Arabia is of course guilty of orientalism. The Woke exalt their Marxist hostility above any art. To them, Lawrence, a legitimate contender for the best film ever made, is anathema and must be banned.
El Diario’s Javier Zurro condemned Longing’s alleged orientalism. George Miller is sinful for depicting women with veils, battles, and bearded men. Such depictions are orientalist. They are out of an old, stale storybook. He portrays these stories the same way any Westerner would have done 50 years ago … we can no longer resort to the same stories in 2020 [sic].
Abidah Zaid at Geek Culture writes that Longing is extremely Orientalist. It heavily places Middle-eastern people under the ‘Others’ category, portrays them as brute and savage, but also exoticises the people and their culture … The movie reduces Middle-eastern people to campy costuming, sexual objects and lessons for the White British woman who, at every second possible, reminds viewers of her intellect. A much more engaging film could come from a younger or a tuned director who would engage and perhaps even challenge the topics of orientalism, sex, race and gender present in the story.
Note that in fact the Middle East and Muslim communities everywhere are full of veiled women and bearded men, and jihad, that is, battles, are an inescapable part of Islamic history. If anything, Longing downplayed the otherness of Middle Easterners. Miller never mentions that two of his female characters were non-Turkish sex slaves kidnapped as girls and sold as vaginas-on-demand. Miller similarly never mentions that murdering one’s own next-of-kin was an established practice in the Ottoman Empire. Muhammed the Third, a comparatively moderate, tender-hearted man, put to death his nineteen brothers, some of them infants at the breast. To the Woke, facts, like art, are dismissible; what matters is fealty to ideology.
Idris Elba’s Djinn is accused of being a magical negro, that is, a black character who exists only to serve a white character’s needs. Slate magazine’s reviewer denounces herself: I may not be equipped to explore fully as a white female critic … the exoticization of the genie character as played by Elba. Is he a Magical Negro? Casting a Black British actor … and having him speak in an invented R-rolling accent of indeterminate origin results in a depiction of metaphysical slavery.
Craig D. Lindsey, a black critic, in Nashville Scene, denounces the most fantastical magical negro movie of all time … paler scribes have praised the film … critics of color aren’t vibing … on the outdated magical-negro trope … racist, misogynistic … fatphobic.
Kristy Puchko at Mashable offers the full menu of Woke denunciation. Longing, according to Puchko, is a a harrowing horror story rooted in privilege and racism depicting a grim power dynamic of of an enslaved person and a slave master. Don’t be deceived. Though not even Miller seems aware, Alithea is the villain of this tale. Alithea others and exoticizes China, the South Seas, and…the Levant by calling them strange lands.” This is an early red flag. Funny, one might think that Puchko liked red flags. Like the English colonizers before her, Alithea strolls about these foreign lands with an eye toward acquisition … of pivotal treasure. No, Alithea is in Turkey to deliver a lecture at a conference. She acquires exactly one souvenir, a small bottle.
Djinn has broad Black shoulders. This is bad. He should have had skinny, pale shoulders. Broad Black shoulders are racist. Djinn tells Alithea stories, pouring out his heart only because of the power she holds in the palm of her hand. Miller flattens a variety of Eastern cultures in an apparent effort to appeal to Western audiences. The film’s Orientalism has been condemned on Twitter. Condemned on Twitter? Well, that seals it. The Middle Easterners in the stories are papyrus-thin characterizations of lust, pride, betrayal, and madness. Such barbaric stereotypes damage Middle Easterners. In contrast, Alithea is a white savior of the enslaved Djinn.
This Black man is a literal prisoner to this white woman’s whims … he entreats her to kindness with food, interest, stories, and … sex … The Djinn’s consent is beside the point … She doesn’t set his bottle on her bed, where he might sleep … She places his glittering prison on a shelf. When goodbye inevitably comes, Alithea realizes this is the consequence of her colonizing actions … the enslaver treated his heart and soul like a tchotchke. The movie’s live-laugh-love ending is white woman nonsense. It’s not the colonizer who’s destroyed, but the very treasure they claim to be appreciating … Three Thousand Years of Longing is not a tale of epic romance, but one of enduring racism.
There is a comedy meme on YouTube. People cut together film trailers and change the genre of the film. One depicts Silence of the Lambs as a romantic comedy. In another, Mrs. Doubtfire is a horror film. Puchko is so blinded by her own Woke self-righteousness that she performs the same vile surgery on Longing. Puchko alleges that Miller shows brazen disrespect by cherry-picking bits of Middle Eastern tales without considering their greater significance or context. In fact it is Puchko who shows brazen disrespect, Puchko who cherry-picks, Puchko who ignores context. She does all this with the blind, destructive fervor of a Stalinist. Miller should sue her, movie theaters should bar her entry, and streaming services should deny her.
Puchko has done us this one service. She has offered us the absurd spectacle of a Woke thought police officer lamenting that a fictional genie’s bottle was placed on a shelf and not on a bed. The thing is, Miller can’t win. Had Miller placed the bottle on the bed and not on the shelf, Puchko would have griped that Alithea saw Djinn as merely a sex object. And Puchko uses tchotchke and colonizing in the same sentence.
If I were to write a review as condemnatory as Puchko’s and Lindsey’s, I would condemn the sick and contagious violence in movies today. I don’t do that because I lack the ability to reverse the flow of mighty rivers. All I can do is raise my pipsqueak voice and say that our current cultural overlords are A-OK with graphic depictions of dismemberment and cannibalism, that artists seem to have lost the ability to depict healthy human relationships in big budget films, and that a sweet, pretty-to-look-at but undercooked movie about a genie is enough to push them over the edge.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.