3000 Years of Longing Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The meaning of the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing”, a film adaptation of the work of the British writer Antonia Suzanne Byatt “Genie in a Nightingale’s Eye” glass bottle, turned out to be quite multi-layered. Many even considered the ideas expressed in the picture too chaotic, and the ending was hopelessly merged. We will analyze the plot and try to give our own explanation of the stories shown.

Country : USA, Australia, Turkey

Genre : fantasy, melodrama

Year of production : 2022

Director : George Miller

Cast : Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Ece Yuksel, Burcu Golgedar

tagline : “What would you like?”

What is the movie about

Three Thousand Years of Longing begins with the words of the main character named Alithea. The woman says that the content of the further story is true, but the viewer is more likely to believe her if she sets out everything as a fairy tale. Actually, fairy tales, myths, legends are part of Alithea’s profession. Her specialty is narratology, the science that studies storytelling.

Tilda SwintonTilda Swinton as Alithea. Frame from the film.

The heroine is going to take part in a conference of narratologists and flies to Istanbul for this. A dwarf with a strange look is trying to steal her luggage. Alitea is immediately met by colleagues – it seems that they did not notice this creature. The woman suggests that it could be a genie.

The heroine is informed that the administration of the hotel where she is staying has prepared a surprise. In room “333”, where the woman will live for the next few days, Agatha Christie herself once visited and wrote “Murder on the Orient Express” there.

At the conference, together with her colleague Alithea, they give a lecture, during which they come to the conclusion that myths and legends about the gods will soon cease to exist – they will be completely replaced by science. In response to this, an old man in a strange outfit sitting in the hall (no one sees him except the heroine) gets up indignantly and shouts: “Nonsense!”. Alithea collapses.

Leaving the conference, when asked by a colleague what happened, the woman says that sometimes her imagination plays cruel jokes with her. In one of the souvenir shops in Istanbul, Alithea finds a small glass vessel, which, returning to the hotel room, she tries to open with an electric toothbrush. Flames and smoke burst out of the vessel – a genie appears in front of the heroine, ready to fulfill three wishes. His attention is drawn to a TV showing an interview with Albert Einstein. To the question “Who is this?” the heroine replies, “He is the magician who guides us.”

The one freed from the lamp wants to fulfill his wishes as soon as possible, but Alithea is in no hurry to make them. Then the genie asks her to tell her about herself. The heroine remembers her childhood. One day, an imaginary boy named Enzo came to her, who helped her in difficult times, including during asthma attacks. They told each other stories – they were good together. Afraid that Enzo would leave, Alithea drew him in her notebook and wrote down the facts about him in detail. However, the more realistically she tried to imagine the boy, the more doubts seized her. Then Alithea burned the notebook in the oven. Enzo didn’t come back.

Idris ElbaIdris Elba played the role of the genie. Frame from the film.

The genie says, “And yet I am here.” He begins to tell his story. Once a genie lived in the castle of Sheba, the Queen of Sheba, who ruled the Arabian kingdom in the tenth century BC, and was in love with this woman (among her entourage, the viewer is shown a strange dwarf and an old man who met Alithea – it seems that they are also genies).

Next comes a free interpretation of the story of the relationship between Sheba and the biblical king Solomon, who seduced her by solving these riddles and completing impossible tasks, including answering the question “What does a woman want?”. He cast a spell on the genie – he locked him in a copper vessel and threw him to the bottom of the Red Sea.

The imprisonment lasted two and a half thousand years. During this time, the genie prayed to all the gods, remembered his life and prayed again, then, on the contrary, prayed to remain in the vessel and, it seems, eventually resigned himself to his fate.

The conversation turns back to Alithea. She says that she was married and at first her husband Jack glowed and lovers enjoyed each other’s minds and bodies. They were supposed to have a child, whom Alithea wanted to name Enzo, but something happened. Now the ex-husband is happy in a new relationship. Alithea felt free again.

The genie continued to talk about himself. The petrified vessel was fished out of the sea, inserted into the wall and accidentally discovered by a girl named Gülten. She was a concubine in the palace of Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. Gülten was in love with his son Prince Mustafa and asked the genie for reciprocal love, and then for pregnancy.

The wishes were fulfilled. But as a result of palace intrigues, the prince was killed on the orders of his own father, like Gulten, since she was supposed to give birth to the prince’s heir. The genie tried to save her, but the girl did not make her third wish, and the follower of Iblis, the supreme genie, who was cast down by God from heaven, blocked his path.

Ece YukselThe role of Gülten was played by Ece Yuksel. Frame from the film.

After that, the genie became invisible to everyone. He tried to attract the attention of at least someone, including the next ruler in the palace – Murad the fourth, who felt magical power more than others. But in vain: the Sultan was mired in bloodshed, then he became interested in friendship with an old man who knew how to tell stories entertainingly, and after his death he died of longing and drunkenness. His place was taken by the younger brother Ibrahim, who loves fat women.

One of his concubines named Pie, who received the greatest freedom of movement around the palace, found a vessel with a genie, but under pressure from a lamp slave, she only wished that he returned to the vessel and ended up at the bottom of the Bosphorus.

About what happened when the genie was released again, he at first did not want to tell, because this story was connected with his greatest pain. The girl in whose hands the vessel turned out was called Zephyr, and she was one of the wives in the harem of a wealthy merchant. Showing the process of the release of the genie, the viewer is given a description of its stages: electromagnetic waves, evaporation, organic particles and the formation of organs. A little later, in a conversation with Alithea, the genie confirms that he has an electromagnetic nature and says: “You [people] are dust, we [genies] are created from fire.”

Zephyr was obsessed with science and the inventions she made in her room. The authors make it clear that she is similar to Alithea in many ways, even in some habits (such as nervously trembling legs while reading). Zephyr asked for knowledge, then plunged into mathematics and, in order to visually see her research, made a second wish to control waking dreams. The genie fell madly in love with this girl and once did not even let her third wish be uttered, because then he would be free.

Zephyr became pregnant by a genie, but the fate of the child remained unknown. The girl began to accuse the genie of making her not free, like her husband, and eventually wished to forget about him. So the slave of the lamp was back in the bottle.

After listening to the story, Alithea makes her wish: she wants to love the genie and that he loves her. The heroine takes her lover home to London. Here, the genie is trying to adapt to the wonders of modern civilization, the abundance of people and their inventions – even studying the collider, a huge satellite dish and neurosurgery.

Bulchu GolgedarBulcu Golgedar as Zephyr. Frame from the film.

Alithea gets into a small skirmish with her elderly neighbors, who are intolerant of strangers and foreign culture in general. However, the genie reassures her, and a little later they make a reconciliatory gesture together, treating the old women with oriental sweets.

Closer to the finale, the heroine utters the phrase that has been heard more than once throughout the film: “All stories about desires are instructive” and asks the question: “So what went wrong this time?”. Alithea talks about humanity, saying that science is just science, that it does not bring happiness, and the love of people displaces the hatred embodied in wars.

One day, the heroine finds a genie in the basement, sleeping (although genies never sleep), covered in ashes. When he wakes up, he thrashes about, trying to pretend that everything is in order, then asks: “Do you think I love you?”. Alithea replies that love is the gift of willingly giving oneself. When she made her wish, she tricked the genie.

After all, love is not something you can ask for. The woman says: “If this world is not for you, I want you to return to your world.” At this moment, the vessel in which the genie was brought to London breaks.

Alithea puts the genie’s clothes in a box and takes them to the basement, just like she did with her ex-husband’s things.

We are shown how, three years after these events, the again lonely heroine, sitting on a park bench, completes work on the book Three Thousand Years of Longing. Lovers and families with children walk nearby. Suddenly, a genie appears. He takes her by the hand. Children playing football throw the ball towards the genie – he beats it back. Off-screen, Alithea’s voice is heard saying: “From time to time he visited her … He promised to return while she was still alive, and that was enough for her … “.

The meaning of the film Three Thousand Years of Longing

So, the picture has a lot of meanings. Let’s try to give clues to at least some of them. The main plots of the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” are devoted to the themes of love and freedom. And the main characters here are Alithea and the genie. We can say that they are reflections of each other. The main thing that unites them is just throwing between love and freedom. We can say that both at the same time and with equal force desire both.

The genie was in love with the Queen of Sheba and because of her was locked in a vessel. For a long time he tried to find freedom (by the way, a more accurate translation of the film’s title, corresponding to its meaning – not “Three thousand years of desire”, but “Three thousand years of longing”), then he exchanged it for love – at the moment when consciously stopped Zephyr when making a third wish. Trying to fulfill the desire of Alithea, who asked for love, he locked himself in the human world. The genie literally deprived himself of fire and began to turn into ashes (episode in the basement).

Alithea has been alone for most of her life. She gives a contradictory interpretation to this state of hers. On the one hand, the woman tells the genie that she perfectly understands his longing, which he felt, being locked in a vessel, and compares it with her loneliness. On the other hand, he is constantly trying to convince himself that this is real freedom.

As a child, she fell in love with the fictional boy Enzo (in the film there are hints that he is also a genie – in particular, this is suggested by the phrase of Alithea’s interlocutor “I’m still here”). She wanted to keep him by drawing on paper and writing facts about him (according to eastern legends, many small incorporeal spirits can be kept by drawing them), but in the end she freed him with the help of fire. It is possible that Alithea later unconsciously tried to return Enzo by naming her child in this way – as a result, and unborn (here is also a parallel with the likely unborn child of the genie and Zephyr). The ex-husband of the heroine, according to her, at first shone (like a genie), but this also passed – it was not possible to keep love again.

Oguljan Arman UsluOguljan Arman Uslu as Murad. Frame from the film.

The theme of love and freedom as opposites, one way or another, is played out in the plots of other characters. It can be said that they are also reflections of the personalities of Alithea and the genie. So, the Queen of Sheba gave herself to King Solomon, probably having lost part of her freedom. Gülten, in love, tried to keep Prince Mustafa with the help of a love spell and a child, which ended in tragedy for both. The friendship of Murad the fourth with the old storyteller, which, according to the genie, grew into love, ended in the death of both. Ibrahim, being locked in four walls, did not want anything but carnal pleasures.

His wife Pie received enough freedom within the palace and also began to desire nothing more. Ibrahim and Pie indirectly reflect the state of the genie, who, being in a bottle, convinced himself that this is exactly what he wants, and Alithea, who proves to herself that loneliness is freedom. Zephyr traded freedom for a love of knowledge. Also pay attention to the fact that everyone who released the genie from the lamp was, one way or another, female slaves. This is clearly a hint that Alithea is not much different from them. And its resemblance to Zephyr is further emphasized.

Another layer of the meaning of the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is the confrontation between fairy tales (stories, legends) and science. First of all, it is embodied in Alithea herself. One is both a lover of myths and a representative of science. The genie also combines the scientific (we are told directly that it is made up of electromagnetic radiation and other things that scientists can understand) and the magical.

Most of the characters in the legends told are real historical figures (embodiments of scientific facts), but the stories themselves are full of fiction. At the beginning, the heroine says that her story is based on real events, but will be presented in the form of a fairy tale (by the way, the author of the work “Three Thousand Years of Desire” Antonia Susanne Byatt herself claims that everything in it is real except for the genie) Initially, Alithea is sure that the myths sooner or later they will be supplanted by a materialistic worldview, and so it should be. But in the end, he comes to the conclusion: science in itself does not lead humanity to anything good – without love, it is doomed to hatred and suicidal wars.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is also a story about inspiration. It is not for nothing that the meeting with the genie took place in the room where Agatha Christie wrote her most famous novel. It was not just that love for Enzo, and then for the genie, pushed Alithea to write a book – first about the first, then about the second. Here the creative process is both an act of love and an attempt to turn it into something material.

Genie Idris ElbaFrame from the film.

There is also a call for tolerance and mutual understanding in the film, to which the storyline with the elderly neighbors of Alithea is dedicated.

Perhaps this is only what lies on the surface. Probably, plunging deeper into the picture, anyone can find many more hidden meanings in it. Someone, for example, argues that the essence of the film is to find the answer to the question “What do women want?”. Moreover, it is repeatedly voiced. However, in reality, the authors do not give any leads. Only the obvious “They want to love and be loved” comes up. But it is unlikely that such a banal thesis claims to be a revelation. Rather, the question asked is intended to create intrigue and prompt your thoughts on this topic.

Three Thousand Years of Longing Ending explanation

The meaning of the ending of the film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” is in the reconciliation of opposites, to which all stories were devoted. Alithea, failed to keep the genie, failed to take his love. Both were mistaken in that it is possible in principle. Love cannot be locked in a cage. Any such attempt kills her, which is what almost all the legends told in the film say.

The same can be said about fairy tales. Science’s attempt to dissect myths is an attempt to cage (like a genie in the center of civilized London) something magical. But this magic can never be destroyed (no wonder the old genie at the beginning shouts in response to the words of Alithea: “Nonsense!”). The explanation for the ending is as follows: love, fairy tales, and inspiration should simply be enjoyed, fully accepting them, as well as their absence.

In the finale, the authors also allow a joke on the viewer, showing that the genie is quite real (he, like an ordinary person, hits the ball of the boys), although before that there were scattered hints and direct indications that he was a figment of the heroine’s imagination.

beautiful vesselFrame from the film.

Similar films

  • Outland (USA, India, South Africa, 2006). The film, which won the main prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007, is a visualization of fairy tales that a stuntman tells a five-year-old girl in a hospital.
  • “What Women Want” (USA, 2000). The main character is a playboy played by Mel Gibson.
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Great Britain, Canada, France, 2009). Beautiful and psychedelic fantasy by Terry Gilliam.

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