Wow. Where do I begin?
"The Shack," the book, is a New York Times bestseller, first published in 2007. It was written by Canadian William P. Young, who experienced healing in his own life; and as a Christian, needed to wrestle with the perennial "problem of evil" question. That's what the whole film is about: one long Job-style interrogation of God.
First, the theology. I am hearing accusations of "The Shack" being New Age. No. This is thoroughly Christian and Trinitarian (which, of course, is redundant). The book and film boldly take on depicting the Trinity,and somehow it works. This is not a literal: Here's exactly what God "looks like" (the First and Third Person of the Trinity did not become incarnate). It's rather a: “what if I got to have a long conversation with God, face to face? What if I got to go to the Source to ask why?”The answers all come about relationally. There are no answers outside of relationship. In fact, there exists nothing in God's Creation outside of relationship. God Himself is pure relationship.
Without giving too much away, I will tell you that Mack, the troubled husband and father of three, is summoned by "Papa" (God the Father) to meet Him and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a shack in the woods. Sound corny? It really isn't – especially if you read the book first. Actually, if you read the book first, anything potentially corny or even offensive will have its edge taken off.
God is a woman?
The Trinity was well cast. Yikes. I know this all sounds so blasphemous and sacrilegious, but it is not. There is nothing glib about "The Shack," and it's coming from a very good place. I've spoken to faithful, orthodox Catholics who have endured terrible losses who found the book very helpful. God the Father is played by Octavia Spencer. Why is "Papa" shown (initially) as a woman? Because Mack had a drunken, abusive father who beat him and his mother. "Papa" tells Mack: "I didn't think you could handle seeing a father just now." It's not a statement that God is not Father, or has not revealed Himself to us as the "masculine principle" of Father and Son, or that He is some kind of androgynous, amorphous Being. Mini-spoiler: Eventually, He will appear to Mack as Father (Graham Greene!) at a stage of Mack's healing where God says: "for this next part, you will need a father."
Jesus is a Jewish carpenter (played by Israeli Avraham Aviv Alush). The Holy Spirit is an Oriental woman (Japanese actress Sumire Matsubara). Again, this is not a statement that the Holy Spirit is female. The three actors do marvels with these larger-than-life (what else could we call them?) thespian tasks.
Rather than try to dialogue with every bit of this jam-packed yet not over-stuffed exploration of the problem of suffering and evil coinciding with a good God, I would just like to applaud and second its explanations. My one criticism might be that it feels a little mild, a little tame. Where is the passion? Where is the rage? Sam Worthington (whom I really enjoy as an actor) is terribly miscast (and he's the main character). He doesn't seem to know what to do with the part. He is not believable, and he adopts a strange, husky, whispery tone for most of the film. He doesn't seem like he has suffered.
Striking a chord and hitting a nerve
Reports are that people are weeping in cinemas. Tears of healing. I'm so glad that the film has managed to connect, especially with a new audience or an audience that never will read the book. I felt that the book preserved and honored the horror of the tragedy better than the film, but perhaps that's just my perspective. Perhaps today in our literal, visual society, people DO need things spelled out for them, perhaps they need to SEE a little something in order to believe--and that's OK, too. May this film do much good to people who need family/relationship/tragedy healing to get over their frozen anger at God and others, and gain a better understanding of reality.