THE SHACK (PG-13)
If you are looking for a theological discussion about the accuracy of "The Shack" you won't find it here. If you are looking for a narrative on its depiction of the Trinity - wrong again. However, if you are looking for a cinematic "pause" from Hollywood's usual onslaught of violence, sex, and language, with a more than whimsical visit to the land of inspiration, then read on.
Octavia Spencer, Sam Worthington, Tim McGraw and Radna Mitchell front the story about a deeply hurting man Mackenzie Phillips (Worthington), who has never recovered from the brutal abduction and murder of his youngest daughter a few years earlier. For all essential purposes, he is a dead man walking. Mack is a husband and father of two who cannot reconcile the horrors of his life with a loving God; he exists because he must. Then, one day a mysterious note arrives, seemingly sent by God.
After overcoming his initial misgivings about the authorship, Mack sets off on a trip to the Shack - the domicile of his greatest nightmare. Upon arriving there, what ensues is a series of inexplicable encounters which forever alter him.
At first the film, like the book, moves slowly as it develops the back story of the Phillips' family's life leading up to the present. However, once Mack arrives at the Shack, the story takes an upward turn as he is taken on a fantastical journey by three characters called Elusia (Papa/God), Sumire (the Holy Spirit) and Jesus. Together, they lead his tortured soul through a journey of revelation and healing where he must confront his own demons in order to be free.
The film was beautifully done in terms of production values, music and concept. Octavia Spencer delivered an empathetic performance as Papa and Sam Worthington gave us a tormented father unable to outrun his pain. Fledgling English Director Stuart Hazeldine managed to pull off a courageously decent adaptation that did not leave me cold. And, it does take courage to convert this type of book which is part narrative, part vision and part apologetic into something plausible for movie going audiences.
I commend Hazeldine for being willing to do the film. While "The Shack" did not capture some of the deep-dive conversations of the book, or several key scenes, it did provide a hearty dose of inspiration. So often a multiplicity of religious experience can relegate an enormous and all-powerful God to the confines of our own thinking, interpretations and deductions. Sometimes, we superimpose our entrenched belief systems onto a Divine Being whose limitations are non-existent.
Am I saying that the God-head is middle-aged black woman, an Asian lady and a handsome Middle-Eastern Carpenter? No. However, "The Shack's" messages about God revealed an intense love for humanity, so much so, that He was willing to go to any length to recapture a wounded soul. The film's themes shouted the grace of the One who saw past a hurting woman at a well, and who relinquished His right to cast the first stone in a religious showdown.
As a rule, I try to stay away from the larger arguments that could be made for most of the films I review. Rather, I base my evaluations on a quality story, characters I care about, entertainment value, and whether I was impacted upon exit from the theater. The Shack managed to accomplish all these categories. For me, it painted a divine picture resembling the bridal paradigm of a divine love stronger than death. And, as I left the theater and dried my bloodshot eyes - it was enough for me.
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