MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Stuart Hazeldine. Starring Sam Worthington, Radha Mitchell.
It’s been a decade since William Paul Young’s novel The Shack was published, becoming a word of mouth sensation and selling over twenty million copies. What was it about this story that connected with so many readers?
The film version sticks very close to the book, which begins with tragedy. Mack Philips (Worthington) takes his three children out for a weekend at a lake. When a canoe with two of his children capsizes, Mack dives into the water to save his son (Gage Munro) from drowning. Mack’s youngest daughter Missy (Amélie Eve), who is on shore quietly coloring pictures, is abducted during the rescue mission. After a prolonged search, Missy’s body is found inside an abandoned shack.
Mack loses himself in grief and seems to be inconsolable. One day a letter arrives in his mailbox with the simple message: Mackenzie, it’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together – Papa. “Papa” is the name that Missy used when she spoke about God. Mack borrows a truck from a good friend (Tim McGraw) and leaves on his own to encounter the eternal at the very spot where his daughter died.
If that seems like a long, convoluted setup, it is – and I have always found the loss of a child borderline distasteful as the emotional hook for a discussion about belief. But, truth be told, once Mack gets to the shack and meets God (in Three Persons, blessed Trinity, played by Octavia Spencer, Avraham Aviv Alush, and Sumire Matsubara), the weekend is filled with a series of dialogues with God that cover such theologically rich topics as the problem of evil, justice, forgiveness, suffering (redemptive and otherwise), and an ongoing relationship between God and the world that God loves.
The cast is uniformly committed to the material and the audience is invited to ponder belief in a way than is not usually presented in faith-based films. Granted, the theology of The Shack leaves something to be desired (and its low Christology requires the Jesus story to be reframed as a hokey Native American legend). But – and this is why The Shack matters – it is a rare piece of popular culture that invites the reader/viewer to engage in theological contemplation. Last year’s film Silence(reviewed earlier on this website) was also a movie that dealt with God and the problem of evil, but it is The Shack that will engage most Christians to ponder their faith in new ways.
The film is long and moves somewhat clumsily through its 130 minutes of screen time, but I am convinced that many churches and small groups will be able to show it in shorter segments upon its DVD release and have meaningful discussions. The underlying tragedy (which Mack calls “The Great Sadness”) makes the film inappropriate for younger children and tough viewing for parents who have dealt with the death of a child, but the film is ultimately hopeful and uplifting. If you can make a trip to The Shack with an open mind, open heart, and open spirit, this story could also open new doors of discovery and dialogue for you.
Five halos: A faithful adaptation of a book about faith, with positive messages as well as deep questions about a loving God’s relationship to a world that is so often marked by tragedy.
Three pitchforks: Child abduction and murder; a brief scene of intense child cruelty.
I did not realize the movie was long. The girl’s body is not found (empty casket) it was her dress found at the shack. Papa - used by his wife and then used by the daughter.
Thanks for the review.
Rev. Ric Harvel. Andover First UMC, Western Reserve District
Do you have comments about this movie or movie review? E-mail your comments. (Your name and UM affiliation must be supplied in order for your comments to be posted.)
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH.
near the Akron-Canton airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW ·
North Canton, OH 44720
Toll Free: 800-831-3972
Office Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 am – 4:00 pm.
©2016 EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.