The Shack (2017)
Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) is a husband and father of three who faces a great tragedy and dark past. As his life spirals out of control, he receives a mysterious invitation to meet someone in a place linked to his family tragedy: The Shack.
Before I go too far into the details of the story, I want to start my review by saying I couldn’t recommend this film more! This film should be required viewing for all Christians, as they seek a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
SPOLIERS AHEAD: If you haven’t seen The Shack yet, this is where you want to stop reading this review and go watch the film!
As the film opens we get a clear picture of Mack’s dark past as we discover his father who was a Church Deacon, also secretly battled alcoholism and was very violent, regularly beating his wife and son. This progressed to the point where Mack actually tries to poison and kill his father. We never discover if he actually went through with it, but we are certainly led to believe he did.
Flash forward to Mack as an adult and he has a wife Nan (Radha Mitchell) and three children Kate, Josh and Missy. When Mack takes his three children on a camping trip tragedy strikes and his youngest daughter is abducted by a child predator. Investigators soon discover the bloodied clothes of Missy in an abandoned shack in the woods. Her body is never discovered so Mack is left with an empty casket at his daughters funeral.
This event sends Mack and his oldest daughter Kate into a deep depression as they both blame themselves for Missy’s death. To make matters worse, Mack and Nan’s marriage begins to unravel as Mack becomes more distant and trapped in his sorrow.
One day as Mack is clearing the snow off of his driveway he discovers a mysterious note in his mailbox, one that invites him to come back to that shack in the woods… signed by “Pappa” the name his wife Nan always gave to God. Thinking it was a sick joke or the actual man who kidnapped his daughter that planted the message, he borrows/steals his neighbor’s truck (Tim McGraw) and heads back to The Shack.
When he arrives at the Shack he quickly realizes he WAS invited by God, who is staying at the Shack in three persons: Papa, The Father (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu , The Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara). Over the course of the next three days Mack spends time with each of the three persons of God and learns the true nature of God’s love and vastness of His grace. He also learns to begin to heal the wounds from his past by forgiving those who have wronged him.
This film is filled with stirring emotional moments and great lessons we can all learn from as Christians. One example is a scene with Papa showing Mack how to turn dough in the kitchen, when Mack confronts God with the question “if you really loved my Missy how could you abandon her? How could you let her be killed?” Papa shows her wrist to Mack and we see a scar where a spike penetrated her arm at the crucifixion… and she explains she NEVER abandoned Jesus on the Cross, that she was there with him on that Cross, just as Papa is always with us even in the darkest moments of our lives… always working things for good. Later we discover the same scar on the wrists of Jesus and the Holy Spirit Sarayu.
Another powerful scene comes near the end when Mack is forced to take the seat of Judge and decide which of his two remaining children will go to Hell and which will go to Heaven. Mack decides that the choice is not fair and offers himself to go to Hell in place of his child, so both of his children can go to Heaven. He also judges his own earthly father harshly for all the abuse he suffered as a child, until it is revealed that his father was also a victim of a very abusive father. Mack learns in these moments that we have to trust God… that we don’t have the full picture when we pass judgements on people in our lives. This particular lesson hit home with me, as I realize I have been very judgmental in my own life.
Throughout his encounter with God, we find a message repeated… it’s all about a relationship. God wants friends and family, not slaves to worship Him. That God is always with us, loves us, wants the best for us and that our life will always be better if we do things with God instead of on our own. In one familiar scene Jesus talks Mack into stepping out of a boat on a lake and walking on water with Jesus… very soon they are racing each other across the surface (what a great scene)… but when Mack decides to walk on water by himself, he quickly begins to sink and Jesus, nearby simply says “it’s better if we both do it”. How true this one statement is and if Christians would live their lives, always with Jesus, imagine the impact of our relationship with God. Imagine how much better our lives would become.
This film is very well written (based on a novel by William P. Young), well produced with great acting from all the players. There were people crying throughout the entire film, which is a good thing! As we learn from the film, tears are a way to get the poison out of our system… the poison of our past, the moments of life that get us stuck in our spiritual growth.
I could go on and on about this film, likely the best Christian film I have ever seen, with the possible exception of the Passion of the Christ. However I would simply like to say one more thing about The Shack. GO SEE IT.