The Shack, starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw
This film is rated PG-13.
SPOILER ALERT: This review assumes the reader has seen the film or read the book.
-Review by Ashley Linne
The theological controversies around this film are being discussed extensively elsewhere. I’ve gone around and around in my mind with how to express my own reactions to the film, and after much prayer, I bring this “review,” if you can even call it that, to the table.
I admit that I never have read the book, so I went in to the theater without many expectations. As with any artwork, I approached the film with curiosity as to how God might speak to me through it. I was surprised that this film contained many fantastic and impactful visual metaphors. In my opinion, the film is worth viewing for that reason alone—for the artistic representations of abstract concepts that can be difficult to convey with words.
I can certainly understand why some people have taken issue with God being presented as three separate people. But seeing, say, a three-headed person might have been too distracting, at least for me. What stood out to me about the presentation of the Triune God is that He was happy. Joyful. Laughing. Dancing. Constantly creating, whether it was making a meal or carving a casket. He was also always in a state of open invitation—inviting questions, inviting Mack to follow, inviting him into the mess and the pain and the mystery. God presented Himself to Mack in ways that would draw him in. But He left the decision up to Mack whether to engage.
I thought immediately of the ways God spoke to people throughout the Bible: a burning bush, thunder, fire, donkeys… He knows how to get a person’s attention and keep it. I wonder how many times He has tried to get my attention and I have missed it. I wonder how often I have been preoccupied with dissecting the innumerable aspects of God’s character and forgotten that ultimately, they all rest within Love.
This movie does not shy away from pain, and I’m talking the worst kind of it here. I was not the only one openly sobbing through parts of this film; I am pretty sure the older gentleman in front of me cried even more than I did. I’ve never seen so much uncomfortable shifting in seats, or seen so many folks simply get up and walk out. In my context, this is not a “churched” area. I wish I could have talked to the people around me and gotten their takes on the movie. Had God been drawing them to Himself through it? Had walls of bitterness and unforgiveness been chipped away? With whom will they talk about the wounds in their souls: with Christians? Where will they go if they have questions about God: to church? To the Bible?
How have we as church leaders prepared our parishioners to interact with, assess, or otherwise process this kind of art? Many Christian adults perhaps have not had the opportunity to learn or hone the skills needed to approach a film like The Shack with open minds and hearts, and this could contribute to a culture of fear, ridicule, and avoidance. It is of utmost importance to be firm in our convictions and for us to be rooted in Scripture. But that grounded, sure footing should allow us to travel into unfamiliar places and to return with tales of the voyage. Have we inadvertently taught people to avoid the mess—the art—of the journey and instead skip too soon to the healing? The problem with that is, as we see in this film, healing cannot be attained except through the valley of darkness and the passage of time.
The Shack presents an opportunity for viewers to journey into their own brokenness, to perhaps ask the questions they’ve always been too afraid or too embarrassed to ask. If we begin with ourselves and allow ourselves to really process our own emotions, perhaps we will find ourselves processing pain, allowing God to transform it into beauty and shalom. If we begin with ourselves and sharpen our skills of interacting with art, perhaps we will find a Christian renaissance in our future.