On The Town: The Shack

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Controversy is something this world has way too much of. It is the bread and butter of many entertainment, and even news, networks.

Maybe you have heard of the controversy from the 2007 novel entitled “The Shack,” and maybe you’ve even heard someone spouting something they heard or read but don’t really understand. Controversy tends to make some people very apt to anger without full understanding. Likewise, maybe you have never heard of the Shack and are just wondering about this movie you saw a trailer for online.

In any case, take a closer look at this movie with me as a story, as a film. We find Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips, the main character, with a good suburban life and family with three kids. He admits he doesn’t really feel his relationship with God is all that great. In fact, he compares it with his wife’s relationship as nowhere near the same level. She calls God “Papa” and talks to him “like an old friend.” A nice sentiment, but Mack feels distant as he still carries tragic memories from his childhood as his father was abusive to him and his mother and the one time he tried to tell someone, well let’s just say it backfired in a very painful way.

The-ShackAs overall themes for movies go, this one focuses largely on Christian values and thoughts. Forgiveness and the path to it weigh in the storyline while understanding and pain provide the broad-stroke color of the film. Mack is in pain, but never fully deals with it. It only gets worse as the film’s main plot point occurs and Mack loses one of his daughters. I do have to give the Shack a bonus point for dealing with something in our society that is very dark and gruesome. While it never fully shows exactly what happens, child abuse and even sexual abuse are heavily alluded. The bonus point, though, is actually showing the agony and anger that Mack feels as a parent, even taking him to the extreme once as he considers suicide.

The main part of the story comes as Mack gets an invite to a weekend at “the shack” where they found his daughter. However, the invite is signed “Papa.”

Its going to be very difficult to explain some things about this movie without exposing serious plot points. So, while up to this point I haven’t really said anything you wouldn’t find out from a trailer, I should probably warn you that there might be a spoiler or two ahead.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the depth of thought and theory in it. This is very much a dramatic movie and it takes you to some very deep parts of human emotion. Some theories of who should ultimately judge people, even more as to what you don’t understand when you judge people, are very blatant in the story. Look closer and you find how one persons sadness can infect a family, how one may experience a time between life and death, how truly hard forgiveness is, and a thought on accepting and experiencing things unbelievable in our world. While there aren’t any really tense moments that hold suspense for the film, the emotion can build through several different situations and as you come face to face with some very hard truths.

The film provides a few small moments of comedy in an effort to balance out its own “heaviness” dealing with sorrow and pain, but there really aren’t many and they usually don’t last long, a choice I approved of as the film really sets its foundation in the seriousness of this situation.

However, I never felt like there was enough time given to each situation that Mack encounters at the Shack. I never got a chance to fully explore any thoughts that Mack may be dealing with as the film moved on to the next scene. Some points felt as if Mack may have accepted certain things “too quickly” missing the chance to expose the inner struggle the character was feeling. The very thing I loved about this film seemed to weaken it as it may have tried to hit too many ideas in its allotted time. But isn’t that always the way with movies based on books. I have never read “The Shack,” but I could almost feel the directors anxiousness at trying to fit a novel into just over two hours.

Make no mistake, the movie was definitely not shallow, but I found myself wanting more depth. I wanted to see more from Mack and his interactions with the people he meets at the cabin. One of the best ones you see is, this may be one of those spoiler moments, when Mack meets “Wisdom” and gets a chance to sit and formally judge the people he has been silently judging his whole life. Mack gains insights that he never thought about, gets shown situations he never considered, and is forced to make a choice no parent could.

As you watch it, this movie will tear at your emotions and make you want to jump to Mack’s defense. Actor Sam Worthington does a good job making him a relatable character, as does the Director developing his actions and choices as not only understandable, but engaging and empathetic. While most of the film works on Mack, you see some changes towards the end. You see how he would change, how he could help his family, but again this gets cut short and leaves you wanting more, never fully engaging the impact on the other characters.

All in all a worthwhile movie. I find myself on the fence about whether you should go see this one in theaters. As much as I loved many aspects of the movie, I couldn’t help but feel let down with the development. May avenues never get explored and those that do never get enough explanation. However, on the whole, the movie performs well in all it tries to accomplish and even gets bonus points for a few things I haven’t seen in other movies.

Ultimately, I may have to say go see this one. Although, if I were giving stars, it may sit at only three stars. The one thought I’ll leave you with is to follow my review’s example. If you do go see it, watch it as a story. Don’t take it as a statement on theology. Don’t get bogged down with the controversy and miss a good storyline because of it.

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