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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Shack is based on author William P. Young's best-selling (but controversial) faith-based book. Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) doubts the existence of God after his daughter is kidnapped and killed, but he ends up having a life-changing experience: He spends the weekend with the Holy Trinity, as personified by three people (including Octavia Spencer). There's no iffy language, drinking/smoking, or sex, but there are some disturbing scenes. Two children nearly drown while camping -- one requires CPR -- and a young girl goes missing and is presumed dead. The movie has inspiring messages about everything from seeking help/counsel to processing grief in a healthy way to the power of forgiveness. That said, the ideas related to God's role in people's lives will particularly resonate with Christians/those open to faith-based questions.
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What's the story?
Based on William P. Young's best-selling but controversial faith-based novel, THE SHACK tells the story of grieving father Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington). During a camping trip with his three children, Mack's youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted during a terrifying moment when his older children go overboard from their canoe. Missy is later presumed dead when her bloody dress is found in a backwoods shack. Months later, Sam receives a mysterious invitation in his mailbox to spend a time with "Papa" (his wife and children's nickname for God) at The Shack, something Sam at first thinks is simply a sick joke. Eventually he decides to return to the shack and winds up in the presence of Papa, a kind African-American woman (Octavia Spencer); Jesus, a Middle Eastern carpenter (Avraham Aviv Alush), and the Holy Spirit "Sarayu," a willowy Asian gardener (Sumire). During his time with the Trinity, Sam begins to heal and rededicate himself to his belief in and relationship with God.
Is it any good?
The talented cast elevates this sentimental faith-based adaptation above others in the genre. Although the story will clearly appeal mostly to the book's fans (a subset of Christians), it has some universalist themes that may draw in more a general audience. The multicultural, two-thirds-female depiction of the Holy Trinity is bound to delight some viewers and upset others.
Doctrinal considerations aside, The Shack benefits from the aforementioned cast and decent production values. Its biggest flaw is its length; two hours and 12 minutes is far too long for what's really a fairly simple story. The sequence featuring a personified "Wisdom" also feels contrived, since it doesn't fit with the otherwise strictly biblical characters. Still, Spencer is believable as a maternal and benevolent God, Israeli actor Alush is well cast as the culturally authentic Jesus who prefers "relationships" over "religion," and the Zen Holy Spirit is interesting (although audiences might feel a bit like Mack -- unable to discern exactly what her role is in the mystery of the trinity). And while The Shack definitely isn't laugh-out-loud film, there are moments of levity, and well as some that are purely heartbreaking. For those open to faith-based movies, this one is better than most.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in The Shack. Are they just for Christians/people of faith? Why or why not?
Some theologians and Christians disagree with the way the story/film depicts God and the Holy Spirit. How do you fee about it?
How does the film depict the grieving process? Parents, talk to your kids about loss and how it can impact a person in many ways. Are there many different ways to grieve? Why?
- In theaters: March 3, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 30, 2017
- Cast: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw
- Director: Stuart Hazeldine
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Character Strengths: Communication
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including some violence
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