Welcome to the 12th edition of My Fortnightly Movie/TV Thoughts. Last fortnight I reviewed Independence Day (1996) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). This fortnight, I’m reviewing:
- The Shack (2017), rated M for mature themes
That is the Australian rating; in the United States, it’s rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violence.
As usual, I’ll include the trailer and a clip at the end. And as usual, a disclaimer is offered.
WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED AT OWN RISK.
I had some trepidation about watching what some called a “theologically inaccurate” and “heretical” movie, but Stuart Hazeldine’s adaption of William P Young’s novel is a truly beautiful faith-based film.
Mackenzie “Mac” Phillips (Carson Reaume) was abused (along with his mother) by his drunken father as a child – and is implied to have killed his father by poisoning his alcohol with strychnine. Years later, as an adult (now played by Sam Worthington), he is happily married to Nan (Radha Mitchell) and has three kids: Josh (Gage Munroe), Kate (Megan Charpentier) and Missy (Amélie Eve). However, during a camping trip, Missy is kidnapped and murdered; the body was never found and the killer never caught.
Mac’s life is derailed. That winter, he gets a typewritten note signed “Papa” – Nan’s name for God – inviting him to “The Shack” (the place Missy was murdered). Thinking it might be the killer, Mac takes his neighbour Willie’s (Tim McGraw) ute, he goes to the shack… and meets God (Octavia Spencer), who introduces Himself as “Elousia”; Jesus (Aviv Alush); and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara), who introduces herself as “Sarayu”. Inviting him to stay with them for the weekend, they take him on a spiritual journey to help him heal, help him repair his relationship with God, and see things from a higher perspective than simply “God let my daughter die.”
The Shack is primarily a spiritual odyssey/drama, and the issues and questions touched on are handled – and answered – very admirably, and mostly accurately. It’s a very touching film – and a relatable one. My Dad could relate to Mac; I could most relate to his daughter Kate, who felt guilty about her sister’s death. During one of my mother’s pregnancies – years and years ago, when I was much younger – we all went to the beach. It was low tide, and me and a couple of my younger brothers went WAAAAAAY too far out. Mum had to walk all the way out to get us to come back. She miscarried shortly afterwards – the exertion that my actions caused at least partly directly resulted in my unborn sibling’s death. I carried the guilt of that for years.
Not surprisingly, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding this movie. For one, God is a woman. Well, not quite. He’s called “Papa” and referred to as “Him” throughout the film, and explicitly states that He chose to appear as a female to Mac at that point because he couldn’t handle a father figure. (God later on appears as a man, played by Graham Greene.) This is Almighty God we’re talking about! Who are we to tell Him that He’s not allowed to appear as a woman? Other accusations are sillier: Jesus is too friendly; God and the Holy Spirit physically appear; the Holy Spirit’s nickname Sarayu sounds Asian/Indian; it teaches unconditional forgiveness; etc etc. Do I even need to explain how those who accuse those elements of “heresy” are simply wrong? Some directly lie that the film claims there is no hell, which is simply a LIE. My sister Racheal addresses some of these claims in her review.
Although not an effects-heavy film, The Shack uses CGI several times, which – together with beautiful scenery – make The Shack a visually beautiful film. (Unfortunately, I had trouble finding many of the visually beautiful shots online.)
Sam Worthington is excellent as Mackenzie “Mac” Phillips, a man struggling with life and faith after his daughter’s death. Worthington is completely believable – and human – in the role, embodying the doubts and struggles many of us have.
Octavia Spencer, however, is the best actor/actress in the film, and is perfect in the role of God. She exudes a warmth and love perfect for the role – a real motherly affection – and has some of the best lines. VERY talented actress.
Aviv Alush is quite good as Jesus. He is the first Israeli actor to portray the Son of God in an English-language film. He is a loving, relatable Jesus who, like the others in the Trinity, want a loving personal relationship with us. Alush was kinda refreshing in the role.
Sumire Matsubara (I hope I spelt her name right) is fantastic as the Holy Spirit. I found her casting particularly interesting because, as I covered in my post Biblical Genders, the Holy Spirit is female. In the movie, she is the one who collects our tears in a bottle, as mentioned in the Psalms.
Alice Braga was REALLY good as Wisdom, who confronted Mac in one of my favourite scenes in the movie.
Tim McGraw was great as Mac’s friend Willie, who narrates the movie.
All in all, The Shack is a visually and spiritually beautiful film with a great cast, and one of the greatest faith-based films ever made. Oh, and not heretical.