OK, first, full disclosure: I
am a person of faith. Therefore,
I approach this movie from a certain personal perspective.
I'm a Christian, so much of what is referenced here resonates with
My guess is that a person from another point of view
would perceive this movie quite differently.
“The Shack” is a kind of spiritual fantasy film.
A guy who is deeply grieving gets hit on the head, and then
experiences a lengthy sort of dream/projection sequence where he thinks
he's awake, and in the process experiences a psychological breakthrough on
his emotional issues.
Mack (Australian Sam Worthington) is a loving father with a
beautiful wife and three adorable children, and he enjoys a happy life,
managing to conceal much of his early trauma from an abusive father.
But a tragic accident involving his youngest child sends him into a
complete tailspin. He can't
get over his anger. Formerly a
churchgoer, he now distances himself from religion, because he's angry
with God for allowing the tragedy to happen to him.
He's so caught up in his own grief that he's unable to see the pain
the rest of his family is going through, and the distance that is growing
between them makes everyone feel isolated and alone.
One day Mack receives an invitation in his mailbox from “Papa,”
inviting him to The Shack, which is a nightmarish place in Mack's mind,
because it's associated with the loss of his youngest child.
Mack decides he has to go, so he “steals” the truck from his
best buddy, Willie (Tim McGraw)---well, Willie wanted to go with him, but
Mack knew he had to do this one alone.
He felt like he was going to go meet his demons.
What he found at “The Shack” was that he met God instead.
“Papa” appears in the form of a black woman (American Octavia
Spencer), who's wearing an apron, and busy kneading dough to make bread.
Then we meet her son, Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush----who,
appropriately, is from Israel), who's dressed in jeans and boots, and a
long-sleeve shirt that's not tucked in with the cuffs always rolled up.
Then, there's the Spirit, Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara---a tall
Japanese model), who seems to be always reflecting the light.
Together they comprise, yes, the Trinity, but forget all that
orthodox religious doctrine, they act just like regular people---mostly.
That is, they prepare meals, they eat and drink and laugh and tell
stories. But Jesus, besides
working in his wood shop, manages to take Mack for a walk on the water,
and the Spirit invites Mack to help tend a wildflower garden that is
overgrown and lovely but also needs pruning and tending---like Mack's
spirit does. After a private
session in a cave with “Widsom,” Sophia (Brazilian Alice Braga),
“Papa” then re-appears in another form, this time a Native American
man (Graham Greene, who's a Canadian of the Oneida tribe).
And he takes Mack on a walk through the woods to a place where it's
the most difficult for him to be: where
he needs to forgive in order to heal, and be able to love again.
Yeah, OK, it sounds hokey. And
it is, when you try to describe it from a plot development standpoint.
But English Director Stuart Hazeldine somehow takes a screenplay
written by three people based on a book written by three people and melds
the story into a sustainable narrative.
There's a lot of ways to have problems with it:
if you're into traditional denominational religion, then you're
going to find argument with the way the Trinity is portrayed.
If you're in that “spiritual but not religious” category, then
you'll probably feel that there's too much traditional hymn-singing and
scripture quoting (though some of it's almost playful).
And if you're not a fan of pop psychology, you're going to cringe
at all the language about letting go and moving on and living in the
present, etc. And, of course,
if you're an agnostic or an atheist, it's mostly going to sound like a lot
of nonsensical baloney. So in some ways, the way it's presented is not
going to be completely acceptable to anyone.
But there's something that feels authentic here, beyond the
trappings of prescribed expectation. This
movie can touch the deep emotions in ways that few films dare even
attempt. And that makes for a
poentially unusual moviegoing experience.