Monday, March 27, 2017

Three Visual Symbolisms in The Shack

 The Shack (film).jpg

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I and our best friends went to see The Shack. My BFF had read the book and described it as “Awesome.” We’d seen the previews, and when God Almighty was portrayed as a black woman, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman, and Jesus as a middle-eastern man (which historically he was), I wondered a bit about this unusual representation of the Trinity. I’m a pretty staunch traditionalist. Based on that teaser of the story, I wasn’t so sure the movie would be “awesome” as described by my BFF.

Movie critics have been very harsh in their reviews of this movie. Their criticisms range from uninspiring script comments, all the way down to calling the story religious pablum and heretical. And I mustn’t forget to mention the unorthodox portrayal of the Trinity, which caused quite a stir when the book originally came out.

Personally, I liked the movie. Was  it a blockbuster of a story? No. Was it religious pablum? It certainly had basic truths in it, and if you call basic truth pablum, then the answer could be yes. The movie’s full of themes—pain; forgiveness; trusting God; why bad things happen to good people; depression; healing; relationships, both spiritual and human. Was it heretical? If you take what's there as truth and not a piece of fiction meant to entertain, then possibly, depending on your beliefs.

All in all, since I viewed the movie as fiction, there were no mind-blowing revelations hidden in the plot for me. However, I do have to admit the story has made me think, but not about the writer’s artistic choice—or purposefully rebellious choice (I don’t know which to believe)—of genders or ethnicities for the Trinity, or whether he was trying to rewrite Biblical truths. Nor have I been pondering the above-mentioned themes. Instead, I was struck by the visual symbolisms in the movie, none of which I've read in other reviewers comments I perused.

There may be some spoilers here, so be forewarned.

 The protagonist of The Shack is Mack Phillips, a Christian man who had a pretty abusive life as a child and who, after enduring physical abuse by his alcoholic father, kills his parent with a dose of strychnine put into Dad’s whiskey bottle.  In spite of his rocky childhood, Mack knows God, but perhaps not as well as he could. But after the brutal death of his youngest daughter he blames himself, and God, for what happened. Mack is falling apart. The faith he had is failing fast. His marriage is in trouble, his family is floundering, and he’s hurting so bad he can’t see what’s happening around him.

 At one point in the story Mack is following a man through a cold, snow-covered forest. As they trek through the frozen landscape it changes, becoming green, lush, and flower-covered. Mack stops on the edge of the snow’s boundary, and looks back into the cold, harsh landscape, then at the disappearing back of the man he’s following into the warm, green forest. The chasm between where he was and where he’s going.

The place where God is leading us to is always better than the place we’ve come from.

When Mack questions God’s gender, he’s portrayed as a woman—the woman who had comforted Mack as a child when the family suffered abuse at his drunken father’s hands—God says he’s appearing in a form that Mack needs to see at the moment. Later, God becomes a Native American Indian, and when Mack questions the change, God says “You’ll need a father for what we’re doing today.”

God can be whatever we need him to be. He is as much an awesome God as he is Father, Comforter, Savior, or friend. He can fill all our needs.

In another point in the story the Holy Spirit leads Mack into a jungle-like garden. An aerial shot of the garden shows rings of hedges grown together, the original shape of the bushes barely recognizable. When Mack comments on the garden’s messy condition, the Holy Spirit says, “It’s yours.” Together, they begin clearing a patch of overgrowth. Later, when Mack has resolved his issues with God, there is another aerial shot of the garden. The sprawling, flowered swirling hedges are now trim, neat, tidy rings.

We don’t have to wait to get our lives in order before we come to God. He can walk through the tangled garden of our lives with us and help us get our lives in order. We only have to open ourselves up to the possibilities and let him in.

Since seeing this movie, because of how it made me think, God hasn’t been far from my mind. And that’s a good thing. Near the end of the story, God offered the protagonist a choice: Stay here with us, or go home to your family. It took a few moments for him to decide.

After seeing God and the portrayal of a warm, inviting heaven, because that’s what the cabin symbolically represented, I could understand the hesitation the character had about returning to an earthly home. After all, isn’t eternal life in the most beautiful place we can imagine with a loving God the reward all Christians want when our existence on earth is done?

I know I do.

Catherine Castle has been writing all her life. Before beginning her career as a romance writer she worked part-time as a freelance writer. She has over 600 articles and photographs to her credit, under her real name, in the Christian and secular market. Besides writing, Catherine loves traveling with her husband, singing, and attending theatre. In the winter she loves to quilt and has a lot of UFOs (unfinished objects) in her sewing case. In the summer her favorite place to be is in her garden. She’s passionate about gardening and even won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club.

 Her debut inspiration romantic suspense, The Nun and the Narc, from Soul Mate Publishing was an ACFW Genesis Finalist, a 2014 EPIC finalist, and the winner of the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award and the 2014 RONE Award





  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about The Shack movie. I've read the book and will not be going to see the movie. It was a powerful story that will speak to each one differently.

  2. I had not read the book but my friend said the movie left out quite a bit.

  3. I read the book and if you read it as fiction, like you said about the movie, then I don't have a problem with it, although like you, I had trouble with the portrayal of the Trinity and had to keep telling myself it's just a story.