The Shack

Posted on March 2, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcoholic parent
Violence/ Scariness: Tragic murder of a child, domestic and child abuse, gun, possible attempted suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 3, 2017
Copyright Summit 2017
Copyright Summit 2017

“The Shack,” based on the best-seller by William P.Young seeks to provide comfort and healing for those struggling with a terrible loss and with something even worse — the fear that tragedy has no purpose and the doubt that pain engenders about whether life makes sense. Can there be meaning in a world of senseless tragedy, where the innocent suffer? The book‘s subtitle is Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, and it is somewhere between a parable, a fantasy, and a story about a man devastated by grief who spends a week in a shack in the woods, talking to God.

While some people, including some Christians, will find the theology of this story questionable, it presents an accessible and comforting notion of God’s love and the healing power of forgiveness.

Sam Worthington plays Mackenzie, a loving husband and father of three children who still struggles with his memories of his abusive father, a man of “calloused hand, rigid rules” and alcoholism. “Pain has a way of twisting us up inside and making us do the unthinkable,” and “the secrets we keep have a way of clawing themselves up to the surface.” (It is not clear exactly what the most painful secrets are but it seems possible he murdered his abusive dad?)

Mack takes his children on a camping trip, where his youngest daughter Missy is kidnapped and brutally murdered while he is rescuing his son, trapped under an overturned canoe. Mac, who had always been surprised and touched by Missy’s simple faith in a God she felt close enough to that she referred to Him as Papa, is shattered by guilt and grief. Even though he sees the pressure it puts on his family, he cannot break out of his isolation.

When his family is away, Mack finds a note in his mailbox, though there are no footprints in the snow. The note is signed “Papa” and it invites him to come to the woods, to the very shack where Missy’s bloody dress was found.  Although he dreads returning to the place of his crushing pain, he goes, and it is there he meets the Trinity. God, known as Elousia, I Am, or Papa, is in the form of an African-American woman who was a kind neighbor in his childhood and who wears Ma Griffe, the perfume he mother loved (Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer). She says he will be most open to her in the form of a mother, and apparently one who loves Neil Young.

God’s Son is in the form of a young carpenter who can walk on water and run on it, too (Avraham Aviv Alush), and the Spirit is known as Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara).  

They live in a Kinkade-like Eden, filled with warmth, light, nature, good food, and laughter.  Very gently, they guide him to an understanding that God’s love does not mean freedom from pain, but a sharing of that pain that can help him forgive and help make his spirit whole.

Some believers will dismiss this as “comfort food Christianity.” The Son actually says that religion is too much work. “I don’t want slaves; I want friends,” and he himself is “not exactly a Christian.” Papa tells him, “I can work incredible goodness out of unspeakable tragedy, but that does not mean I orchestrate the tragedies.”

But its idea that God loves us enough to reach out to every one of us in our the way we are best able to understand is genuinely touching. The insights Sam reaches about forgiveness and healing could be arrived at via psychotherapy or a number of other ways, but for this man — and this audience, the message is meaningful and touching, and a good reminder that patience and forgiveness are always worth making time for, and that every act of kindness changes the universe.

Parents should know that this movie concerns the brutal kidnapping and murder of a child, with images of her bloodied dress and dead body, a gun and possible attempted suicide, as well as depictions of wife and child abuse and alcoholism.

Family discussion: Why is it important to learn to forgive, even when the transgression is evil?  How did each member of the Trinity teach Mack a different lesson?

If you like this, try: “What Dreams May Come” and “Henry Poole is Here”

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Based on a book Drama Movies Spiritual films

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