Didactic and Ethereal
Release Date: March 03, 2017
Starring: Sam Worthington, Octavia
Spencer, Avraham Aviv Alush,
Radha Mitchell, Alice Braga,
Sumire, Amelie Eve, Megan
Charpentier, Gage Munroe with
Gra-ham Greene and Tim McGraw
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Rating: Not Yet Rated
Runtime: 132 minutes
Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Executive Producer: Mike Drake
Producer: Gil Netter, Brad Cummings
Writer: John Fusco, Andrew Lanham,
Address Comments To:Jon Feltheimer, Chairman/CEO, Lionsgate Films AKA Lions Gate Films (Summit Enter-tainment/Roadside Attractions/Codeblack Films)
2700 Colorado Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Phone: (310) 449-9200; Fax: (310) 255-3870
THE SHACK opens with little Mac, short for Mackenzie, seeing his father beat his mother. His father is an elder at their Christian church. Mac goes forward at an altar call to confess he can’t stop his father from beating his mother. That night his father beats him, for hours. Soon thereafter, Mac pours highly poisonous strychnine into his father’s alcohol bottles. This fratricide plot problem is ignored for most of the movie.
Years later, cut to Mac with his lovely wife, son and two daughters going on a camping trip that he calls the beginning of his sorrows. When the older daughter and son capsize in a canoe, Mac swims to save them. Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Missy, is kid-napped by a pedophile roaming the woods. The police tell Mac later that no one has ever caught the pedophile. The police go on a manhunt and find the daughter’s red dress and blood on the floor in a very rundown shack in the Oregon Mountains.
Time passes, and everyone in the family is depressed. During a snowstorm, Mac finds a letter in his mailbox that seems to have gotten there supernaturally. The letter invites him to come to the shack to renew his relationship with “Poppa.” Poppa is the name his wife and daughter gave to God.
Not knowing whether it’s God or the murderer, Mac steals his neighbor’s four-wheel drive truck and drives to the shack. On his way there, he almost gets into an accident with a truck. At the shack, he has a breakdown, but on leaving meets a very unorthodox ver-sion of the Trinity: God the Father is a wonderful African American woman who looks Mac’s neighbor as a child; God the Holy Spirit is a lovely Asian woman; and, Jesus is a young Middle Eastern looking man.
During Mac's time at the shack, these three people try to help Mac forgive and send him on some quests. On one quest, Mac meets a woman sitting on a throne who says that she’s Wisdom and explains to him he’s trying to be the Judge in place of God. She helps Mac to realize that he can’t be the judge. During this time in the cave, Mac sees visions of greed, envy and war, and he sees Missy playing in Heaven.
When Mac returns from the cave, he walks on water back to the shack with Jesus and is sent on another journey to bury Missy with God the Father, now looking like an old Na-tive American man. After learning to bury Missy, Mac sees a forest of departed spirits who look like light beings of many colors, one of whom is his father, who forgives Mac. The unorthodox Trinity tells Mac that he can either stay with them or go back home. Then, there’s a creative plot device that tries to diminish some of the movie’s aberrant, unorthodox messages.
Throughout THE SHACK, there are a lot of nice statements reaffirming some good Christian theology. However, the parts of the movie that relate most closely to the book still promote a homoiousian, Arian, monophysite view of God, a weird insertion of a wisdom character, a Non-Scriptural view of the resurrected body that offers very little hope or joy, and an easy forgiveness that never asks Mac to repent of his own sins. Homoiousianism is the heretical Arian doctrine that Jesus is of a similar, but not identical, substance or essence to God the Father. In the orthodox Nicene Creed adopted by Christian churches, however, Jesus Christ is of the identical substance or essence as God the Father. The heretical monophysite view of Jesus denies his human nature whereas the orthodox Christian position is that Jesus is both human AND divine. Ultimately, THE SHACK diminishes the need for Jesus Christ to have died on the Cross, we are really nice people who can be perfected, but the fact of the matter is that we are really abhor-rent, especially to one another, and Jesus died to save us from our sinful nature.
One could write tons and tons of theological treatises about the aberrations and unorthodox views in the movie. In many ways, THE SHACK is an amalgam of spiritualism, Spiritism, cheap grace, and ignores the power of the Cross and the power of the Resurrec-tion.
That said, it’s clear the filmmakers wanted to do the right thing, and, in trying to fix the theology of the very popular but misleading book, they failed to create a compelling, dramatic movie.
Furthermore, although horrible things happen in the story, such as Mac poisoning his father’s alcohol, and the pedophile killing Mac’s young daughter, the movie is very static, with lots of speeches reminiscent of a watered-down Sunday School lesson from the un-orthodox members of the Trinity, who try to give some orthodox meaning to the movie’s story.
Also, the direction is so lifeless that, despite the bad things that happen, it is difficult to cry with or for Mac. Emotion is almost non-existent. We want to care about the charac-ters, but it’s hard to do that when the director gives us nothing to care about.
Most of the movie merely gives viewers a string of scenes punctuated by speeches. Also, the movie has very little action because most of it occurs in and around a tiny shack. The camerawork is good in some places but fails completely in visualizing Heaven, the cave, or the resurrected people walking out of the forest.
That said, Christian’s rooted in Biblical theology and worldview can glean positive mes-sages from THE SHACK, such as the power and importance of forgiveness. Additionally, for individuals that grew up with terrible father figures, or abusive parents, the movie attempts to restore the idea to those individuals that our heavenly Father is indeed a good and loving Father. Finally, the movie encourages believers to pursue spiritual intimacy with the Holy Trinity.
One can only hope some of the audience will take away the right message from the movie. It’s clear the filmmakers tried to cure some of the more extreme unorthodox messages in the book by: inserting speeches; framing the movie with a truck accident; and, showing the hero reading the Gideon Bible. Even so, many of the movie’s messages would be disturbingly heretical if they weren’t presented in such a tedious, boring way.
Since I grew up in a Hollywood family and traipsed around India with a guru, I would have taken away another message. Thus, like Siddhartha, THE SHACK ultimately teaches those of us who did not have Christian roots that we can create our own Heaven or Hell, God is who you make it out to be and all our problems can be solved by just be-ing nice. What brings us face to face with the power of the Cross, however, is that just being nice is never enough to reconcile us to God or our neighbor.
In conclusion, THE SHACK attempts to tackle the human condition and the nature of God in a fictional feature film, and the results, though well intentioned, can have drastic implications for spiritually susceptible individuals. THE SHACK is not anti-faith, or anti-Christian, but it fails to present the Truth of the Good News of the Gospel (repentance and salvation), and thus diminishes its evangelistic qualities. Additionally, its attempt to explain God’s nature outside of what scripture says takes away the mystery and holy rev-erence of God. You can find positive qualities in THE SHACK, but that doesn’t save it from the list of problems it has. Thus, a strong caution is advised.
Based on a popular book, THE SHACK has added many nice statements reaffirming some good Christian theology. However, the parts closest to the book still promote a false view of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It also promotes cheap grace. Finally, although horrible things happen in the story, the movie is very static, with lots of speeches reminiscent of Sunday School lessons. It’s clear the filmmakers tried to fix the theological problems in the book, but they failed to turn THE SHACK into a compelling, dramatic story.