Although I had read the book when it first came out, I recalled only snippets when going in to see the film version of the best selling faith based novel by William P. Young. I have always loved novels that flesh out bible stories, but my favorite genre is fantasy. I have read tons of fantasy novels, and many Christian allegories….my favorite being the Narnia series by CS Lewis. The Shack, among other things, is a fantasy.
There was much controversy in the religious community about the novel when it first came out. Some religious leaders endorsed the book while others labeled it as heresy. The movie is garnering the same reaction.
The biggest controversy about The Shack is its portrayal of the Holy Trinity: The Father is presented as an African American woman, Jesus is written as a 30 something middle eastern male, and the Holy Spirit is represented by a young Asian woman. The reason for God appearing as a female to Mac, the main character in the story, is far less obvious in the film version than it was in the book—but in a nutshell, God appears as a woman to Mac because he experienced severe child abuse at the hands of his father and his image of a father is that of a violent, sadistic, bully… (it should be noted that God also appears to Mac as a wizened father figure, portrayed by the wonderful actor, Graham Greene).
In reading the book, I found The Shack’s imagining of the Trinity as three different characters of three different races an interesting and profound concept but I did not take it as a doctrinal point, just a story-telling devise to give a visual sense of the mysterious nature of God.
I enjoyed the book because of its delving into Mac’s inner life, as the Trinity begins to peel back the layers of the man’s memory and emotional pain from the greatest loss a parent can experience. This concept again, was engaging to me because I am fascinated by the human spirit….flaws and all. Everything the Trinity does is to bring Mac to a place where he can be healed of his deepest pain, and where he can finally forgive and love God.
I found the film engaging on its own merits due to the technical magic of CGI (though the effects could have been better accomplished with a bigger budget). I also truly enjoyed the wonderful performance of Octavia Spencer as “Papa”. The pacing of the film is a bit too slow, and from scene to scene, the film does not always flow, often feeling disjointed…as if the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit together. In reading the book I recall feeling a bit let down that there was not more of an emphasis on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, but in the film, Jesus’ sacrifice is presented in a manner that clearly communicates the salvation message.
My biggest complaint about the film, however, is the casting of Sam Worthington in the role of Mac, who never rises to the challenge of communicating with his body, face, and emotions… his character’s inner conflicts. He is oddly flat and wooden, his eyes failing to register the searing pain of man who has suffered the tragedy that is at the heart of the film. There is no arc between his character in the tragic moments and in the conclusion of the story; same lack of facial emoting, same blank eyes and lack of real, messy tears. There is only the sameness of an actor who is best suited for action roles.
Despite my critique of a film that is in many ways flawed, I was deeply moved by its clumsy portrayal of an unusual story. I found myself in tears through many scenes because the film asks profound questions and deeply ponders what faith in God is and WHO God is. The movie did not change my own personal beliefs, it simply caused me to look a little deeper into my own walk with God; my disappointment in him, my sometimes anger at him, my often coldness toward him…and my inexhaustible need and love for a God I frequently do not comprehend.
The Shack raises more questions than it answers, and it does so through the author’s vivid imagining of a journey to forgiveness.
“That is one of the functions of art: to present what the narrow and desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude.”
― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature
For more information about the author, visit her Facebook Page at SwanSongBonnie.