The film “The Shack” opened last night and my wife and I treated it as a date. The book was quite a phenomenon 10 or so years ago, used for sermon illustrations, group studies and attention from the churched and un-churched alike. I read it back then and saw the value in it but didn’t really get into it. My wife and many church members hung on every word in this book and quoted it frequently. We seldom go to a movie theatre and have never gone to an opening night but Teresa planned to see “The Shack” with great anticipation. The theatre was packed with a diverse crowd. Teen agers with their date sat with adults of all ages. It was a family crowd and did not seem to be just the obligatory church groups. The responses ranged from laughter to sobbing and even cheers.
The Shack is beautifully filmed with a solid cast, fantastic music and special effects. Hidden in this film is a parable of the Christian Gospel wrapped around every question that regular people long to find answers but often lack the courage to ask. Questions of the Holy Trinity, Evil, freewill, forgiveness, being judgmental, the limits of love, grief, and the life of faith are asked, struggled with and illustrated. It’s long, almost 2 1/2 hours, but is engaging to the end. Sam Worthington, Radha Mitchell, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw and the rest were witnesses to the acting craft and cultivated an amazing chemistry. It was campy at times but the film is larger than just entertainment. All of the cast were great but Octavia Spencer is intense and funny. She is how I want God to be-struggles and all.
The story is a parable, framed around an abused child that married and is living an apparently ideal life. Active in church, married to a loving and beautiful wife, living the suburban home with the three perfect children, “Mack” has it all. His relationship with God is forced and dependent on his wife’s salvation. He is going through the churchy motions. At a family campout the youngest daughter meets a sickening and evil end in an old shack in the middle of the wilderness. Mack and his family go into an emotional and spiritual free fall. Nearing the bottom of his resolve this dad receives a mysterious note in the mailbox inviting him to meet “Papa”, his wife’s name for God, at the shack. His meeting with God is painful but leads him to resolve hatred and answer the questions of our existence. The movie ends well by being a step in a family’s journey and not merely a happy ending.
The portrayal of the Holy Trinity is a bit cartoonish and predictable but warm and nourishing. The characters deal with the complexity of hate and the frustration of mystery. The issues of judging and loving an undeserving enemy meet grace and redemption. In one scene, “Jesus” answers Mack’s questions about church and the many earthly expectations of life with, “Religion is just too much work. I am not interested in having prisoners but having friends.” There are occasional denominational agenda in some of the answers. However, a God’s eye view is offered in them rather than human rationalizations.
One key to enjoying this movie is remembering that it is a MOVIE and a parable. The Shack is not a source of doctrine but a teaching lesson on the majesty of living in and through God. The Shack provides a starting place for answering the difficult questions in many lives. We in the audience still have to ask the hard questions and expect God to answer in truth and not in bumper sticker aphorisms.
This is a good and moving film. I would not take my very young children due to the nature of the little girls’ murder and the beating given to Mack by his earthly father. I would take churchy people, especially youth aged and up, those new in their faith, and those critical of church and Christianity. This movie has a valuable message and is faithful in delivering it in a thought provoking way.
For more information and the source of the photos used, go to www.theshack.movie/