Friday, March 3, 2017

The Shack [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review

Nat'l Cath. Register (S.D. Greydanus) review
Nat'l Cath. Reporter (Sr. R. Pacatte) review
Christianity Today (CTPastors) review of the novel

Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review 

The Shack [2017] (directed by Stuart Hazeldine, screenplay by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Cretton based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by William P. Young [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] in collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen [WCat] [IMDb] and Brad Cummings [WCat] [IMDb]) continues a string of quite good and, often enough, _quite excellent_ Lenten offerings put-out by Hollywood in recent years (I think of the History Channel's quite excellent The Bible,  Series [2013] and the following year's Son of God [2014] theatrical release).

Yes, the current film (as also the book that it's based on) does carry with it some controversy: God the Father (of the Holy Trinity) appears first in the story as "God the Mother" (played again quite well by Octavia Spencer).  That God "the Father" (in many languages "Father" is the default word for "Parent" ...) would be appear first in the story as "Mother" will initially rile many Christian traditionalists.  However the story here has God _having a purpose_ to coming to the story's chief protagonist, a Job-like, American (white) "Everyman" named Mack Philips (played _quite excellently_ by Sam Worthington) IN THIS WAY.

God as "Divine Parent" answers Mack's question on this point (even Mack finds it rather odd ... his whole family "back home" had been calling God "Papa") telling Mack: "Based on what you've been going through lately, I don't believe appearing to you as "Father" now would be particularly helpful to you.  You're not ready for that yet."  

So what then has been happening to Mack?  Well, we do learn that he did grow-up with an abusive father.  However, more recently, he was mourning the truly TERRIBLE (and seemingly utterly RANDOM and RANDOMLY EVIL) loss of his youngest, cute as button, daughter named Missy (played again wonderfully in the story by Amélie Eve).

At the point in the story when Mack encounters God as the Trinity (Son played by Avraham Aviv Alush, Holy Spirit by Sumire Matsubara) IN THE SHACK where his beautiful 8-year-old girl HAD BEEN KIDNAPPED TO and MURDERED, a SHACK that's _transformed_ into a LUSH AND BEAUTIFUL PLACE (though it was Winter) by THE DIVINE PRESENCE, _all_ that Mack really wanted was REVENGE or, if not that, then at least Death (for himself).

God, appearing as a TRULY all-Loving MOTHER, _helps_ him get through the first steps of letting go of the ANGER / HATE and above all CRUSHING PAIN.

And I have to admit that I both sympathized at times and ADMIRED at other times, Octavia Spencer's playing of her Role (and then also ADMIRED the scriptwriters):

When She first appears to Mack, She tells him that She had "a special love for him."  Then in the course of the seemingly several days conversation Mack has with Her, as well as with both Jesus (the Son) and Divine Breath (Holy Spirit), She repeatedly says: "Oh, I have a special love for [this or that person ... including, amusingly, [random] singer Neil Young] ;-)."  Getting tired of hearing what seemed to be an increasingly tiring cliche', Mack asks her sarcastically: "Is there ANYONE that you DON'T HAVE 'a special love for.'"  And er times, Octavia Spencer (playing GOD here, remember...) smiles and answers ... "No."  YES, our (CREATOR) GOD WOULD HAVE _A SPECIAL LOVE_ for ... US ALL :-)

There's another scene where Divine Wisdom (again portrayed, unquestionably accurately here, as a woman played by Alice Braga) offers Mack the "Judgement Seat" and then gives him the challenge of sending one of his two remaining children, teenagers Kate (played by Megan Charpentier) and Josh (played by Gage Munroe), one to Heaven and ... the other to ... Hell.  Mack refuses, saying "I can't do that."  To which Divine Wisdom answers ... "Exactly.  When they're YOUR CHILDREN, ALL YOUR CHILDREN, it GETS VERY VERY (EVEN IMPOSSIBLY) HARD." 

Finally, there does come a point when God appears at Mack's door as Father (played by Native American actor Graham Greene), to whose appearance Mack replies "I was just getting used to seeing her you as a Mother," to which GOD ANSWERS: "We're going to go now on a hard Spiritual Journey (to finally make peace with what what happened to Mack's daughter), and here you're _going to need_ a Father."

Dear Readers, I am truly IN AWE of this story.  Yes, it challenges Viewers / Readers to look at God a little bit differently than perhaps we are used to.  On the other hand, the pay-off is great.   

I don't think I've heard a better explanation of why God would permit Evil than that prsent in the exchange between Divine Wisdom and Mack -- even someone as misguided, Evil as Hitler began life ... as a Child of God. 

And yes, there are times that we need a compassionate God to _cry with_ and other times a still compassionate God to _lean (and cry) on_.  And seeing God as, above all, a Divine Parent in whose image, male and female, we were created [Gen 1, 27], helps make this work.

A excellent, and if nothing else, thought-provoking work!

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