Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Shack (2017)

Plot: Mack was living a bountiful life with his loving wife Nan and children Kate, Josh and his youngest daughter Missy. Suddenly his life is shattered when a serial killer called the Ladybug Killer kidnaps and murders Missy thus destroys his already weak faith in God. Then one day, a mysterious telegram enters his mailbox signed by "Papa" (Nan's nickname for God) inviting him to come to the shack where Missy's dress was found. Mack reluctantly agrees and travels to the cabin where he meets the holy Trinity, Papa (The Father), Jesus and the Holy Spirit (who goes by the name Sarayu) and seek to help him understand, heal and forgive.

I've read The Shack a couple of times, and for the most part I think it's a very enlightening and enjoyable Christian book. I may not always agree with everything that is written there but I think like other Christians/ Christian related literature such as Dante's Inferno, or C.S. Lewis's non-Narnia books like The Great Divorce or The Screwtape Letters, it isn't something that should be considered 100% real about God or faith and things like that per say, but be more a fantasy with a piece of mind expressing someone's interpretation about God and his love and his word. Anyone who says it isn't enjoyable book agrees that it at least tries to tackle the argument of why God allows terrible things to happen wild still loving us and wanting to be with us. It has its strength of trying to be unique and interesting while still having an enlightening moral. When I saw the trailer for this movie most of it looked a visually promising while finding it questionable that Sam Worthington is playing the lead character. Having just watch the film yesterday, I can say that a lot of it met/exceeded my expectations. Is it a terrific film? No, but it's a very faithful adaptation that brings the story to life in a why where it's just as much of an experience as the book itself.

Visually speaking, the movie for the most part is perfect. The film has a lot of what I personally envision when reading the book from the appearances of Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, to the shack itself, too Sarayu's Garden. Some of the effects you can easily tell are fake, but they're done in a way where they still look nice and you can enjoy the showmanship. The actors who play all three parts of God are very good. The guy playing Jesus is very friendly and upbeat, Sarayu is kind but is aware of the pain happening in the world, and then you have Octavia Spencer as Papa ... where do I begin with her? In many ways Spencer is the real star. She brings the most life into scenes, and her dialogue is very mysterious but in endearing to listen to. The book is written so that Papa/The Father is the bigger focus and the other two parts of God are secondary partly because the book points out that people commonly view The Father as very vengeful and wrathful when he isn't. There may be some interactions with the other heads of God where they point that out like when Mackey says he feels more comfortable around Jesus because he was human, but even if the film doesn't directly point out the stereotype of The Father the way the book does, they still keep the focus mostly on Spencer than anyone else. But even with that said, I still enjoyed watching Mack interact with all three of these parts of God to the point that it makes the idea of spending a weekend with God just as heartwarming and touching as it is when reading the book. And while they do take some part of the book out, the story as a whole feels well paced. Nothing feels very rushed, they really take a lot of time to establish the characters and their relationships with each other before and after Missy's death.

Now I have been reading some reviews for this movie, and some people dislike the movie because  they dislike that God is appearing in different races, particularly with a black woman representing The Father. If you're one of those people who has that kind of problem, I want to point out a couple of things, 1) this is how they are portrayed in the book, 2) If you really are having a problem with the choice of people casted to play the three parts of God in terms of race, then then frankly it's little wonder that Donald Trump is holding present. (Yes, I know that is a very low shot, but honestly it's a little hard not to think otherwise given that this is really the biggest problem some people have with the movie), and 3) this isn't supposed to be a common stereotypical view about who God is. By design, the book and the film is meant to point out that God doesn't necessarily have to appear the warmest people believe he will like The Father appearing as an old man with a big white beard like Santa Claus or Gandalf (which they make fun of more in the book.) The Shack is meant to take you out of your expectations of who God is like because there's only so much we actually know about him from our own interpretations about the Bible itself.

If I had one problem with the movie it sadly would have to be Sam Worthington as Mack. Like I already said, I was concerned about him playing Mack when I saw the trailers like I said earlier, but was willing to be  open-minded about it. As it turned out however, I found Worthington's performance to be... a bit of a mixed at best. On the one hand, he does a decent job in making his character likable and establishing his close relationship with Missy and we understand his pain, but on the other hand he goes back and forth between his American and Australian accents and when it comes to the really powerful emotions like whenever he is angry with God or sad because of his loss, or even worried about his daughter when he realized she's missing, his performance was underwhelming. Vocally, he delivers most of these emotions well, but facially he usually has the same face for almost everything. It's gotten to a point where I think the director and the post-production people might have intentionally edited the film so that his most emotional moments are expressed through voice-over where the camera is not focused at its face in attempt to hide that he can't give us what Mack is feeling visually. While not a terrible performance, aspects like this make Worthington easily the weakest aspect of the film.

Now another reason why this movie has been attacked by the critics is the common claim that while most of them agree that the message is well intentioned, the film feels more like a sermon with virtually nothing but talking as if we are watching a seminar hosted by God and otherwise full of theological stuff that a lot of them disagree with. I will admit that this is a movie that is dialogue heavy, but I think it is necessary for the moral that both the film and the book are trying to get across: that God does love us, he's there for us through the pain we go through and we need to trust that we know what he is doing and that he goes before us. If that's just not what you believe about The Lord whether you are a believer or not, I understand, but given the controversy that this movie has, I strongly suggest that if you ever watch this movie or read the book that you should keep an open mind. This is a fictional story used as a tool to get a moral across and much like believing in The Lord and his word, it's up to you on what to agree or disagree with what is being said. It's not a doctrine, it's a fantasy to express the human condition and faith in God. 

And that's my review for The Shack.  In my point of view as a follower of Jesus, I think the story itself whether it's in the book or the film is an enlightening and heartwarming piece of Christian fiction that has some interesting ideas about putting faith in God through the painful moments in life and remembering that he loves us no matter what. There are some things I don't entirely agree with, but in the long run it's an enjoyable look at how we should put our faith in God and his word. The movie succeeds in bringing the story to life in terms of its visuals and all around being an enjoyable experience with a solid cast (apart from some moments with Sam Worthington.) There's a lot of controversy that makes it necessary for me to tell you that you need to keep an open mind with how God is portrayed and what the film is trying to say. It's important to know that the film is fiction and should not be taken seriously apart from the moral it is trying to say and whether or not you will enjoy it or what it says is entirely up to you. 

Rating: 80%

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