Check out some top tips about how to welcome visitors, straight from the experts!Read More
Make it easy for everyone to participate...hold it, did we say "mobile"?Read More
Inspiration to live out a big welcome to all comers.Read More
Dir: Stuart Hazeldine
There’s been a renewal of sorts. Have you noticed it? A batch of Christian-themed movies has passed (quickly, mostly) over movie screens in the last few years. Do you remember Heaven is For Real (2014), God is Not Dead (2014) or its imaginatively titled sequel God is Not Dead 2? Or the plethora of Left Behind movies? These films come with a certain bent, mostly evangelical. But there have been others, too: last year’s Silence, Risen (2016) and Last Days in the Desert (2015) to name a few. These have a generally less in-your-face approach and try to do something a little more creative.
So which category does The Shack fall into?
First of all let’s acknowledge the difficulties in making faith-based films. Even that term is loaded! The nuances of faith are many and for a film to please enough people to turn a profit, often the lowest common denominator is the target. US evangelical churches are large enough in numbers and members to be considered a viable market for film. On the other hand, remember Last Temptation of Christ? Controversy has dogged films like this which try something different.
The Shack is based on a best seller novel though it's more a kind of theology book by stealth. It features a story of sorts with long conversations and longer monologues designed to share contemporary popular ideas about the nature of God and faith. The script writers' task is to take this string of conversations and turn them into a movie with dramatic payoff.
Mack (Sam Worthington) is a parent grieving after the abduction and death of a child. He struggles to understand this reality in the light of his faith. A mysterious invitation to The Shack, the location of his child’s death by someone called Poppa leads him, yes I’m going to say it, on a journey of self-realisation. Poppa is his wife’s term of choice for God, and at the shack he meets the three persons of the trinity. Poppa is played mostly by Octavia Spencer who you might recall from Hidden Figures though Graham Greene, a native Canadian actor subs in later on. Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) is a rugged bloke, a middle eastern type in a flannel shirt and hiking boots. Sarayu (meaning wind in Sanskrit) is our Holy Spirit analogue played here by Sumire Matsubara. That sums up the thing I found most appealing about The Shack: the diverse and incarnational nature of the portrayal of God. But even here the slant placed on the masculine portrayal of Jesus was off-putting. I do applaud the effort made to veer away from a portrayal that would have won points with a large portion of the American audience. Unfortunately there’s not much more to say in a positive vein.
Where the book spends many pages in dialogue (sermons, really) the movie dispenses trite aphorisms and slogans. Written through a thick veneer of mawkish sentimentality, the issues of God’s presence and absence and the nature of evil don’t get the treatment they deserve, though Mack seems quickly persuaded by these counselling sessions. The price of the movie runtime is that the emotional arc for Worthington’s Mack Phillips is curtailed unrealistically. While I was grateful that the speeches had been largely abbreviated, the “show, don’t tell“ rule of filmmaking delivered only unconvincing moments of Mack doing some cooking with Poppa, CGI gardening with Sarayu and sprinting with Jesus across a lake (I am not making this up).
In the end, The Shack leaves the viewer satisfied only if one’s idea of faith is armchair variety at best. Where a film like Silence struggles with faith in a corporate and individual sense to breaking point in order to reach the profound, The Shack treats faith as something confirmed by a good plate of American pancakes. Once God is willing to show up and convert you face to face, then faith becomes literally unnecessary.
So is this a film worth seeing? I’m glad I saw it, because it provides a snapshot of one aspect of popular culture’s version of what marketers have decided should appeal to a considerable portion of American faith. In doing that it tells me something worthwhile about the world we live in. I can imagine it would be useful for a theology class or small group to deconstruct the film as an exercise.
Remember those categories I talked about back in the first paragraph (basically evangelical or progressive)? The Shack tries to be both; something for everyone, to hit all targets. It aims for profundity butachieves only superficiality in terms of story, theology and filmmaking.
Practise finding the exceptional in the everydayRead More
Intentional brain power does the trick.Read More
To infinity and beyond - the life of a futuristRead More
A picture is worth a thousand crosswords.Read More
Group work is great...except for when no-one talks!Read More
The Social Responsibilities Committee is excited to launch Doing Justice — a space for
telling stories and engaging with social justice ideas and activities across the church and beyond.
To help build the Doing Justice community, please consider doing these three simple things...Read More
There's a lot to look forward to from formedfaith in the coming months. Seminars are happening and you can book one now. There's training coming up too. And some new projects are zooming along too. What are they? Click here to find out!!Read More
Measuring a church’s health and vitality, even its growth, is no longer tied to the number of people in worship on Sunday. We need to look at...Read More
Sometimes all the planning in the world won’t make a Bible study or Sunday School class go well. I’ve had my fair share of disasters, or more often “ho-hummers”, you know the ones, sessions that just could have gone better. On reflection, often the cause of blandness is...Read More
“If love is just a good feeling, it will do little to help us live well. But if love is the energy
of gift that made the earth and the stars, if it is the force of connection that moves us into
common life, if it is the very nature of a God who exists as three persons in an eternal dance
of reciprocating charity – then..."
The topic of making a pilgrimage, a kind of sacred journey has come up in conversations around me a lot recently. The themes underpinning those chats reminded me of this movie, The Way, released in 2011 and starring Martin Sheen and his son, Emilio Estevez. It's all about the Camino...Read More
Looking to sign up for a 360 Project seminar somewhere near you?
Here's what's coming up in the next few months...Feel free to sign up if you live locally or anywhere nearby. Of course, anyone can go to any of these no matter where they are!
Each is free and runs from 9-3.30pm. Rego details available by...Read More
Many of us are so absorbed and taken up with life, and all its minute by minute demands, we may well ask “why bother?” with Christian contemplation. Martin Laird’s recounting of the story of a young male prisoner with a habit of self-harming made my mind up in a way nothing else ever has.Read More
Love Life Live Lent is a unique booklet that helps you change the world for the better during Lent one small action at a time ! LLLL offers 40 simple choices and actions for each day of Lent to make the world a better place.Read More