It’s hardly worth writing a review of the recently released film The Shack. Everyone is going to have a preconceived notion about it before going to see it. Many Christians are going to be excited about it because it supposedly portrays their religion in a positive light, having God as a character (or Three) and characters who unironically advise, “Have you prayed about it?” For the same reason, the non-religious crowd (or other-religious) is going to avoid it, because their virtues and morals and voices will not be heard.
At the same time, many non-religious (or other-religious) will see their morals and virtues in the movie, and with the strain of Universalism that runs through the film, many will be fine seeing this sort-of-Trinity as their God, in some sort of allegorical fashion. For the same reason, many in the Christian crowd will boycott the film for its ecumenicalism.
The question is whether to analyze the movie as story or sermon, and as I’ve argued elsewhere, it demands of itself that it be viewed as a sermon with the skin of a story. But the story itself is shallow and predatory
The audience is hardly allowed to experience what the protagonist, Mack, endures. From the word “Action!” the assumption is laid on the audience that Mack, agnostic at best and angry with God, needs to get to redemption and a “right relationship” with God. Hot-button points are shoved down our throats: Mack as a child is beaten by his drunkard father; Mack as an adult loses his dearest daughter to a murderer. The movie wants to play the audience like a fiddle, but it plays with tone-deaf hands.
The emotional predation continues as Baby-Boomer-favorite hymns are sung in Mack’s church, as God the Father is portrayed by a comforting black woman, as Jesus repeats the favorite Bible stories like walking on water, as the Holy Spirit is a young woman who actually takes time to do such an “old-person” task as to tend a garden. Glimpses are given of heaven as a field in which children run and laugh and play, and of souls as bright colorful lights.
What finally dismisses this film from any critical discussion is the hackneyed device of, “Was it all a dream?” Mack wakes up, first in “the shack,” not as God had cared for it, but as abandoned and dilapidated; minutes later he wakes up again in a hospital, where a friend tells him he never made it to the shack in the first place. Although Mack’s wife tells him she believes him about his experiences meeting God, the audience is asked, literally by the narrator, to decide whether the story is true.
The movie is trying too hard, preaching a religion that can hardly be called “Christian,” and tells the audience how to feel. Don’t see it.