The reason why I liked the movie is really simple: Movies are supposed to be entertaining. I went to be entertained and the movie entertained! As far as I'm concerned, the movie is an excellent venue for a family event.
I was more than entertained. I was moved. The movie is strong on several family-themed fronts. First, it has a potent theme of forgiveness that made me cry several times. The main character, Mack, is walked through a divine journey of being able to forgive his father, his daughter's killer, and even himself. The movie demonstrated the powerful crippling effects associated with a person refusing to extend forgiveness, seen in Mack’s un-engaged, self-focused, ‘shut-down’ demeanor with his family and with his life. The viewer is confronted with the damning effects even when the refusal to forgive is directed at the self. Jesus identified forgiveness as a 'show-stopper' for salvation, challenging family members to forgive others or they themselves will not be forgiven. The movie demonstrates how the greatest of offenses can be forgiven.
Mack’s journey involves him being confronted by God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; all portrayed as a black woman, a Middle-eastern male, and an Asian woman, respectively. Mack is ‘enraptured’ in a visionary experience where he spends the weekend in the same shack where his daughter was recently killed, the very same place where he got ‘stuck’ in life. The underlying message preaches that God meets us the places we get stuck. The gospel message is that He comes to set us free and restore life. These are great messages for around the dinner table.
Redemption is a strong theme in the movie. Mack was constantly fighting against the divine prompts to forgive, not knowing his stubbornness was holding him a prisoner of isolation. But once forgiveness was extended, Mack experienced a touching reconnection with God, his family, and with life.
Probably the most controversial aspect of the film revolves around the artistic liberties taken in the portrayals of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. This is really simple for me. I don’t have any problem with artistic liberties being taken within the context of Christian-themed entertainment. (Heck, I don’t even mind artistic liberties being taken in the context of worship. If you attend church services these days you know what I’m talking about since today’s church services look NOTHING like they’re described in the New Testament…talk about extreme artistic liberties!) This aspect of the movie will prove to be quite the conversational fodder for moms and dads to talk about the Trinity with their children.
It’s good to remember that movies are designed to be entertaining, and because so, they ought to be experienced with the context of entertainment. This is a contextual ‘move’ that people make automatically; like how we experience watching a comedy different from how we watch a documentary or how we read a comic book different from how we read medical journals.
In regards to the movie's obvious evangelistic shortcomings and other theological concerns, I would say that there’s much room for criticism; but since I don’t place this movie within those categories (contexts), I find those critiques to be misplaced and I’m perfectly fine with artistry. Go enjoy the movie with your family!
Jeff McAffee is the Lead Pastor of Parkway Church in Phoenix, AZ.