“The prophecy didn’t say anything about this!”
“Prophets don’t know everything!”
–Jen and Kira, the Dark Crystal
I saw Oz the Great and Powerful this weekend. It was an enjoyable but very problematic movie. While I won’t get into the sexism present throughout the movie, I’d like to talk about one plot device in particular that I just can’t stand anymore: easy prophecy.
Within two minutes of our protagonist landing in a forest in Oz, he is approached by Theodora, Witch of the West. “Are you the wizard the prophecy foretold?” she asks. Oz, played lovingly smarmy by James Franco, smiles. “Yes, I am your wizard.”
In the remaining two hours of runtime, not only is the prophecy not elaborated on, we don’t find out who made the prophecy or under what circumstances. It’s just a vague prognostication: “wizard will come to Oz and save the world.”
This is an incredible cop-out.
Prophecy, as understood in biblical studies, is a veiled description of current or near-future events in religious symbolism. When the writer of Revelation described the “beasts with seven backs,” he was referring directly to the Roman Empire (specifically, the seven-hilled city of Rome). Prophecy was understood not to be a form of prediction or future magical fulfillment.
That understanding changed over the centuries. Nowadays, writers of all flavors throw around prophecies like confetti. It can be done well, such as in Harry Potter’s dark and ambiguous prophecy, and poorly, such as in the latest Alice in Wonderland film. Oz the Great and Powerful, released by the same studio, falls back on the same tired device.
Please. No more prophecy unless you can make it count.