The Shunning directed by Michael Landon, Jr.
Release Date: September 13, 2001
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Format: DVD, 88 minutes
Based On: The novel by Beverly Lewis
First Seen On: The Hallmark Channel
Starring: Danielle Panabaker, Sandra Van Natta,
Bill Oberst, Jr., Sherry Stringfield
About the Movie:
Katie Lapp (Danielle Panabaker) has always struggled with the rules that define her sheltered Amish community, but when a wealthy outsider (Sherry Stringfield, TV’s “ER”) begins asking questions about her family, Katie begins to wonder about her origins. What connection does this woman have to her life…and how will the unraveling secrets challenge Katie’s faith?
The Shunning, presented by the Hallmark Channel and directed by Michael Landon, Jr., tells Beverly Lewis’ touching story of Katie Lapp. If you have read The Shunning, you will notice that Chris Easterly’s teleplay makes changes. Some characters are missing and their roles have been merged into others’. For example, although Katie has three brothers in the novel — Elam, Eli, and Benjamin — the movie gives her only Benjamin, who seems to have taken the place of her married brother Elam. Additionally, Ella Mae Zook has been given the role of baby catcher, while Aunt Mattie is absent from the film. I was a little saddened, too, that Katie’s best friend Mary doesn’t play a more significant role. I would have loved to see more of their relationship on screen.
Along with these notable character changes, there are several differences in the timeline and in the way events unfold. This makes the movie a different experience from the book. However, I find that no matter how faithful a movie remains to the novel it is based upon, it always creates a separate product. This is not a bad thing, but rather a result of the differences between the two mediums. Books can spend as much time as they like, but movies, due to time-constraints, need to pick and choose which scenes to include. Furthermore, films are limited by what they cannot demonstrate. It is difficult to show what a character is thinking, as internal monologues from the text cannot be illustrated by visuals. By the same token, it is more difficult for a book to tell you what a place or person looks like.
The Shunning does a beautiful job of bringing the Lancaster County landscape and the people of Hickory Hollow to life As the film opened, I felt I was intruding on a quiet, tucked away corner of the world, unspoiled by the complexities and corruption of the modern society. And perhaps that’s why the long black limousine appears in the first scene, and why the lady inside, Laura Mayfield-Bennett, seems to occupy more space in the film than in the book. Her presence sharpens the contrasts between these two juxtaposed worlds. I think this is why I was a little disoriented each time the film shifted its lens from Katie Lapp and the Plain people living in the pastoral landscape of Hickory Hollow to Mayfield-Bennett in an urban setting.
Danielle Panabaker does a marvelous job of capturing Katie’s innocence, independence, imagination, curiosity, and fascination with things that sparkle. She also is very easy to empathize with. [Warning! Spoilers ahead!] The Shunning, like the book, succeeds in putting the Amish community’s practice of Shunning under the spotlight without being harshly critical. Both the love and the measured discipline from Katie’s family and friends are shown. We share Katie’s frustration and we hurt for her. And like Katie, we are even a little angered for a time. However, our emotions settle and soften, and ultimately we ache not just for Katie, but for the family and the extended community. This is not a simple situation with an easy resolution. It is bittersweet. We want the best for Katie: we want her to marry for love, and we want her to feel unashamed about who she is. We wish she could remain with her family and friends without feeling like she has to lose herself in order to conform to the Old Ways. We aren’t sure how that can happen, though. I would have liked to see the film take more time to explore questions about the extent to which man-made rules and the customs, rituals, and other trappings of religious practice represent God’s will or demonstrate the faith of a believer. I’ve heard talk of a sequel, so maybe this will be explored in the second film.
Overall, though the movie tells the story in a different way, it remains true to the character of Katie Lapp and the confusion she must deal with as she struggles to define herself and her faith. I was moved to tears a couple of different times while watching Katie and her family respond to and adjust to the uncertainty surrounding them as their lives suddenly change course.
One thing is certain: I really want to find out what Katie’s ultimate decision will be! I guess I’ll have to read the second book (and probably the third) or wait for the follow-up film to find out!
About Beverly Lewis:
Born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, Beverly Lewis is the New York Times Best-Selling author of more than eighty books. A keen interest in her mother’s Plain heritage has inspired Lewis to write many Amish-related novels. The first of these novels, The Shunning, has sold over million copies. In 2007, Lewis was honored with a Christy Award for her novel The Brethren.
The Shunning movie on the Web:
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above DVD for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”