I believe that rarely does a movie improve on the novel it is based on. The Shack is one of the few that does.
I read William Paul Young’s first book shortly after it was originally published in 2007. How could I not? It was a bestseller about God that delved into the mystery of the Trinity in a new way.
I had mixed feelings about the book. Not because of any perceived theological quibbles (it’s a novel after all, not a work of exegesis) but because I found it a little stilted. Or maybe as a father I don’t like reading about the aftermath of the abduction and murder of a child. (I don’t think that gives away too much plot, it’s in the trailer, – there’s a whole lot more to absorb in both the book and movie. You now know as much about it as I did before reading the book; well, I did know a little more, but you don’t need to.)
As a movie, as entertainment, The Shack works, which surprised me. It’s a bit of a heavy topic for Hollywood, and surprisingly well done. I went into it expecting not to like it. The book was too emotional and not cerebral enough for my taste. You could say the same thing about the movie – but I liked it anyway. I found reading the characters in the book to be a little two dimensional, especially the depiction of God. The movie brings them to life. Competent acting and good cinematography means this film comes across far stronger than I was prepared for. There is an attention to detail that I hadn’t expected – if you haven’t seen it yet, watch out for the stigmata.
The idea of God as a black woman is controversial for some. For others it is something you can extrapolate from an open-minded reading of scripture. I won’t get drawn into the debate here, but I should stress that this is a story; it is fiction. What has some people upset I think is that it doesn’t feel fictitious. That’s the mark of good storytelling. Full credit to the filmmakers for not watering down Young’s vision. There is no doubt of the strong Christian message, even as the central character wrestles with doubt, though not all the boxes in everyone’s theological check list get ticked off. I’m sure some people may feel it borders on preachy, but it feels right for the situation the characters find themselves in. And the portrayal of Christians isn’t sugarcoated – some are downright despicable.
I’m not a huge moviegoer, so while some of the cast looked vaguely familiar, the only person I immediately recognized was Graham Greene (and no doubt the idea of God the Father as an Aboriginal will also upset some people). The advantage of a good story of course is that you don’t need a cast of superstars to carry the film.
Strangely, given the centrality of male characters and absence of a boy-girl romance, in some ways the film still felt like a chick flick to me. I think that may be because when something pulls at our emotions we feel it is our feminine side coming out. I’m not a chick flick fan (and living in a household of women I get subjected to enough of them), but The Shack was worth watching. I think you might feel the same way. Certainly it offers the opportunity to consider the nature of God and what God means to a fallen world, which is always a worthwhile topic.