Rating: 2

THE SHACK, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, is a well-meaning and heartfelt film that dares to tackle a fiendishly tricky question. If God is good and loves us all, why does She allow evil in the world? Couched in parables and riddles, and for all its gentleness of spirit, it arrives at the same conclusion as the Book of Job. That would be, and I’m paraphrasing, who are you with your limited perceptions to question it?

Avraham Aviv Alush, Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Sumire

Avraham Aviv Alush, Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Sumire Matsubara

Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) may not have experienced Job’s trials, but growing up with a violent father, and losing a precious child as an adult, has caused him to lose his already iffy faith in Papa, as his devoted wife, Nan (Radha Mitchell) calls the supreme deity. It’s created a rift in their already stressed family, and so when Mack finds a note in his mailbox from God Almighty inviting him for a weekend stay at the eponymous remote mountain retreat, he suspects it’s from his child’s killer rather than the Lord. This even after his neighbor (Tim McGraw), who also narrates the film, points out that there are no tracks in the snow around Mack’s mailbox.  With Nan and the children conveniently away for the weekend, Mack drives into the mountains for a confrontation. Instead, winter turns to summer, and he encounters miracles and mysteries in the persons of motherly Elousia, aka Papa (Octavia Spencer), an amiable Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush), and a shiny Sarayu aka The Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara).

Thus begins the questioning by Mack, the which leads to more questions, such as how all three of these entities are one in the same.  The answer to that was the preoccupation of many a theologian through the ages, and, as with so many responses to question in this film, it’s not so much an answer as an assurance that everything is for the best. One wants so much more, and the feeling of being cheated becomes overwhelming amid the distractions of the rustic charm and simplicity of the art direction, and the spectacle of Mack and Jesus not just walking, but also sprinting, on the water of the local lake.

It’s not that there aren’t some wonderful nuggets of metaphysical pondering to be found here about free will, nor that the performances are lacking. Indeed, Spencer is profoundly moving when calling out stupidity with a motherly compassion, or offering a nourishing empathy to the emotional wounds that cause Mack to lash out. Worthington, too, is excellent. Suffering magnificently, yet quietly from Mack’s emotional wounds that have accumulated over the years, yet still evoking a sense of basic decency. Points, too, for making Jesus unmistakably Middle Eastern, and to having him say that religion has a tendency to make slaves of its followers. It’s one of the risks the story takes, including a visit with Wisdom (Alice Braga), who shows Mack the trouble with being judgmental. That it also involves shifting the responsibility of who is to blame for evil in the world undercuts the exercise, alas, not to mention what can charitably called a false equivalency or two.

THE SHACK is both affirming and a tear jerker as it takes Mack on his pilgrim’s progress from despair to acceptance to hope. It’s just never as deep is it needs to be in order to tackle its big central question. The constant reminders that everything is going to be alright, and that Mack, and by extension we, should not worry our pretty little heads about why evil is allowed to exist, has a distinctly condescending tone that for all the pretty colors and noble speeches, and it leaves a sour aftertaste.


What did you think of this movie?


  1. BC says

    I think if you want to see a religious movie, you should find another one to see. The Shack is not about doctrine, not about theology, not about salvation. The Shack is about a common man’s struggles (at an extreme emotional level) and how he finds his way through it. When one considers Christianity in a holistic manner (based on scripture), the wisdom scene was spot on. God does not create evil, but to give us a choice He allows it to exist so we can choose between loving Him or loving ourselves. God is with us when we are in the midst of evil and He wants us to lean on Him through faith.

    As for getting an answer for “why” a loving God allows evil things to happen, the movie, like the Bible is consistent in that our human minds are incapable of understanding because we apply our definition of love to God and project what “we” would do. He is not us, He was not made in our image, we were made in His.

    The movie is a great feel good movie that does a great job of helping the viewers “feel” how much God loves us. Mac does a great job of being “us.” If one pays attention to the movie and to the little things and how they all tie together, it becomes as a the author of the story said “an invitation to a bigger conversation.”

  2. says

    I disagree with this review. As I read some of the negative reviews of this movie that I’m seeing from so-called movie critics, I suspect that there is a bias against this film simply because it bears a Christianesque message and presents Jesus in a positive light. There are a lot of God-haters in the world and even more Christian-haters. The fact that the audience review score on Rotten Tomatoes sits at 87% fresh compared to a mere 16% fresh from critics on the same site tells me there is an agenda behind many of the critic reviews, namely that they don’t like God or Christians and don’t want anyone else to either. I have read the book and just saw the movie this afternoon. It’s not a perfect movie, or even a perfect story, but it does portray an insightful, fresh view of the incomprehensible love of God for people. That is a message that sorely needs to be heard, not squelched, in our hurting culture today.

    • TrustGodAlways says

      I agree with the post by Badgerland. I agree with that the movie was not perfect, but I did like the book a lot.
      I don’t think the movie reviewer understands the topic. The fact that everything is going to be ok is the exact message that God wants you to understand. If you put your faith in God, he/she will walk with you through the hard times, and yes everything will be ok. The movie tried to explain that since this is an imperfect world, bad things are going to happen. However, if you ask God to be by your side, everything will be ok. I do not know if you have children, but what if you were invincible and able to be with them (or your mom/dad with you) all the time. And they could turn to you and ask for advices or protection ALL THE TIME, wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, God can do that. Just ask him with all the faith you can muster up. I see it like skating. If you think you are going to fall, you will, but, as you learn to skate (learn to have faith), your confidence in him will grow, and yes, everything will be ok. Try it. 😉

  3. think4urzlf says

    I really enjoyed the film and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in thinking about the big questions in life. The story itself isn’t the most thrilling–this is not an action flick. I thought that the acting by the main characters was superb–genuine and not overdone. The script was realistic to the situations and very thought-provoking. Although the main story line could be disturbing to young children, I think with a little preparation, the whole family could enjoy the film and it provides lots of topics for a deep discussion. I couldn’t help tearing during several scenes–again, well acted and directed. Beautiful scenery at times.

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