For some, God and the afterlife are nothing more than a magical story. For others, it is a beautiful way of life and a way to shape and explain their existence. Whichever side of the fence you stand on, there are questions behind the purpose, point, and prerogative of God, which are so eloquently answered in “The Shack”.
In a way that has never before been depicted in movies, “The Shack” fearlessly attacks the questions so often presented in the face of religion. This fearlessness, in my opinion, deserves the highest form of praise.
The 2017 film is based on the 2007 novel of the same title written by William P. Young. Mack Phillips (played by Sam Worthington) takes his three children on a camping trip that’s all family fun until his daughter Missy (played by Amelie Eve) is kidnapped and killed while he’s trying to save his other two children from a canoeing accident.
From that point on, the movie is a tumultuous and emotional journey through the act of forgiveness and attempting to understand the mysterious ways in which God works.
From the moment of realization that his daughter is missing until the final scene, Mack pulls the viewer in to experience his emotional journey right alongside him. I watched in pure panic and deep sadness as Mack returned to the scene of the crime, gun in hand, to avenge his daughter’s death.
Filmed in Vancouver, the cold setting hardens the distraught emotions of Mack and viewers alike. However, it’s not until this moment that the real journey starts.
In a magical setting shift, Mack suddenly finds himself in Heaven face-to-face with God, with an artistic twist by director Stuart Hazeldine – God is not He but She. What better, strong female to play, arguably the biggest role any actor or actress could depict, than Octavia Spencer. I was in complete awe at the bold decision to make God a woman. Why make God a woman when even Mack’s own daughter referred to God as ‘Papa’ before her kidnapping and death?
I believe the reason for this is to answer the question of who God is. Those who believe in the traditional version of God may be offended by this interesting take on His (or Her) appearance. I, however, was completely fascinated by this decision. I firmly believe in God and I still loved that He was depicted as a She. I think the message to be sent here is that God is whoever you want God to be.
In Mack’s Heaven, God was surrounded by a very Middle-Eastern looking Jesus (played by Aviv Alush) and a female holy spirit named Sumire (played by Sarayu). Again, I was very appreciative of the casting decision made here. Jesus is depicted as how I believe Jesus would have (and should have) looked based on where he was from. The depictions we so often see of Jesus make him look more western than Middle-Eastern and I think that’s inaccurate.
Besides the tremendous casting decisions, I thought the explanation given by God as to why She is the way She is was very eye-opening and profound.
As Mack struggles with coming to terms with the unrighteous death of his daughter, he finds himself very angry with God in what he believes is an unfair storyline that God has written for his life. He peppers God with a plethora of questions fueled by angry emotions in which God exudes the utmost patience. The viewer is taught through Mack’s journey that we’re all children of God and Mack learns the hard way that it’s not so easy to judge how consequences are doled out among God’s children.
As Mack slowly learns to trust in God and the others he meets in Heaven, he is granted with the gift any parent could ask for after losing a child: another chance to see his child. After realizing Missy is happy in Heaven, his anger shifts into the process of forgiveness. I was deeply touched by the strength exuded by Mack in his journey through Heaven and forgiveness.
In his final day in Heaven, he finds out what the purpose of all his time there has been for. He’s granted the opportunity to experience one final moment with his daughter. I grievingly watched this final touching moment with Mack and Missy. As hard as it was to see the events occurring through my tear soaked eyes I thought the purpose of Mack’s time in Heaven was so wonderfully embodied in his final scene with his daughter.
As if there weren’t already enough twists and turns in the story, the viewer is thrown one final curveball. Mack never actually made it back to the shack.
As a believer in God, I found myself more firmly cemented in my beliefs after watching this movie. I thought Hazeldine’s casting choices were a major part of the reason why this movie was so touching. It was a very beautiful and indulging way to learn about God and Heaven. Most importantly, Mack’s journey of forgiveness taught me lessons I can take into my own life. Missing this film could be considered a sin (in the world of films at least) but God, as I learned in this movie, won’t hold any grudges.