Listen: Laura and Duncan chat with the director of The Shack, Stuart Hazeldine.
10 years after its publication and with more than 20 million copies sold, the novel-turned movie, The Shack, has reached Australian cinemas.
The story of a troubled man and his weekend away with God, has evoked passionate responses from both those whose life has been changed by the novel, and detractors who question its theology.
The film is a faithful retelling of the story, with impeccable, wholehearted acting by big names of the screen, including Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Radha Mitchell.
Director Stuart Hazeldine, a man of lifelong Christian faith, chatted with Hope 103.2’s Laura and Duncan about the making of the film, which portrays God as team of three – the “original holy family”.
“This loving trinity invites an angry, questioning, frustrated human being in, and he spends a weekend slowly being warmed by that love, to the point where he actually begins to see them as friends instead of the people who are trying to cause pain in his life,” Hazeldine says.
Portrayal of God
The portrayal of ‘Papa’ God in The Shack as both a maternal black woman, and a fatherly native American, is an aspect of the story that has been controversial and hotly debated by people of faith.
But it’s a device that Hazeldine defends. He explained that author William P Young used the idea to challenge the historic notion that God is a ‘white guy with a white beard’.
“When he was growing up [the author William Paul Young] knew a black lady who was very kind and compassionate with him and that stayed with him, and I think when he was coming up with a way of portraying God in the book, he wanted to question peoples’ assumptions…about God,” Hazeldine said.
“So we have God as an African-American woman, Jesus as an Israeli Jewish guy, the Holy Spirit’s an Asian woman, there’s a male Papa at one point in the movie who’s Native American, and there’s the representation of Wisdom who’s kind of on God’s team, who’s Hispanic.”
Hazeldine said the movie aimed to portray God in numerous ways so that all viewers could find a point of connection: “There’s no gender or racial type who isn’t included in God or isn’t a reflection of the image of God.”
Hazeldine’s Own Questioning of the Theology
Like many people who have encountered The Shack book, Hazeldine was not convinced it really presented a full picture of God, and so he hit the books and did some theological study.
“When I had a bit of time to myself during the editing process, I probably read more widely about theology than I had since I was a teenager,” he said. “And I ended up in the place of saying ‘I think it does really put across the full character of God.’”
Another whose life has been impacted by the making of the film is the leading actor Sam Worthington, who first came to faith in his 20s.
“I’m still on this journey of discovery [myself] and I think part of my journey was getting involved with ‘The Shack,'” he told the Christian Post. “I could see myself in Mack, the arguments he had towards God, towards what happen to him and how frustrated and angry [he was]. In my 20s and my 30s that’s exactly the type of person that I was. I was looking for something and I didn’t even know where to begin.”
The Message of The Shack
The ‘shack’ in the movie represents, in Hazeldine’s words, “the house we build for our own pain”. The run-down building in the woods, where a tragedy occurs in the life of main character Mack, is turned into a beautiful cabin – where Mack renews his relationship with God.
Hazeldine calls the film a “therapy movie” – “only your shrink isn’t Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, your shrink is God”.
He hopes anyone who has suffered some kind of grief or depression will find solace in the film.
“I think the central message of the movie is the classic lesson that ‘No man is an island’,” he said. “That the only way to get unstuck and get out of periods of overwhelming grief, is through relationship. For some people that will be their relationship with God, for others that will be their relationship with their spouse or family or friends – but you can’t do it alone. Sometimes we need each other to pull each other out of the mud.”