Now, it’s turned into a movie starring Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) as Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips, who takes his three kids on a camping trip to a lake in Oregon. His two older children are rowing on a boat when it flips and his son nearly drowns. Mack dives into the water and saves him, leaving his youngest child, Missy, alone near their tent. When they return, the little girl is already missing. Cops come and it appears that the child is abducted by a serial killer who has killed other children before.
The tragedy sends Mack into depression that alienates him even from his own wife (Radha Mitchell) and kids. Then one wintry day while he’s shovelling snow on their driveway, he gets a mysterious letter from a certain Papa asking him to visit a shack in the forest where they earlier found the bloodied dress of Missy. Earlier, we are shown Mack as a boy. His dad beats him up and his mom and he is comforted by a kindly neighbor who gives him apple pie (Octavia Spencer.)
He goes to the shack, which has been abandoned and dirty. He’s disappointed and is about to leave. But a bearded man comes along and asks him to go back. The shack is then transformed into a beautiful cozy cottage. The wintry, snow-filled surroundings is transformed into a lush summery atmosphere.
There, he meets the Holy Trinity. God is represented by an African-American woman called Papa (Octavia Spencer, one of the busiest actresses today as she’s also in “Hidden Figures” and the coming “Gifted”) and later, also by an elderly Native American man (Graham Greene). Then there’s a Middle Eastern carpenter representing Jesus (Aviv Alush), the bearded man who asked him not to leave, and the Holy Spirit is represented by an Oriental woman named Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). As you can see, the cast represents a united colors of Benetton, and Mack and his wife are played by Australian actors.
The visit to the shack becomes a therapy session or weekend retreat that affords Mack to have personal experiences with all his personal counselors. He gets to walk, even run, on water across the lake with Jesus. He works in the garden with Sarayu, sees where Missy is now and is reconciled with his abusive dad who asks for his forgiveness. In a series of conversations with Papa and Sophia (Alice Braga), the personification of Wisdom, Mack gains some valuable insights about spirituality, faith and forgiveness. He also gets his own personal healing as he comes to terms with his daughter’s tragic fate.
How you’d regard “The Shack” depends on your own state of spirituality at the moment. Fundamentalists and Biblical purists who stick to dogma will no doubt find it silly or heretical and might even be offended by the Hollywood interpretation of characters who are meant to represent the three Persons of the Trinity. When Mack asks them which one is the Creator, they answer in unison: “I am.” But some folks who are personally seeking the Divine Providence (who’s the target audience of the book and this film) might find it psychologically helpful in starting their own journey to finding out more about God.
Personally, we appreciate the fine portrayal of Mack’s family after Missy’s disappearance as it looks quite real. We also like the way that the Trinity is portrayed as very friendly, not impossibly distant, and all radiating genuine love for Mack. It might start unbelievers to ask experts about some theological questions involving the Supreme Being. But for worldly viewers who are very materialistic in the way they regard life, this movie will just be a lot of crap.
Understandably, a two-hour movie cannot answer all the questions that we might have about faith and spirituality. One message that we find significant is when God says that though He loves us all, evil still finds its way into the world, and this is where God can do some “good out of unspeakable tragedies” and we just have to trust Him as He is working on His own terms to redeem all humanity, even souls that might seem to be beyond redemption, like the abductor of Missy.