FILM

The Polka King
By Richard Turner on February 10, 2017

The Polka King is the true story of Jan Lewan, the “polka king” of the 1980’s-90’s, who inadvertently starts a Ponzi scheme and, even though he’s warned by the government to cease his activities, can’t stop and ends up bilking an ardent group of his fans of millions of dollars. Like so many Jack Black films this one borders on the inane, but also like in Bernie and The Big Year (two other Black films based on actual people), he finds a way to maintain an air of believability despite that cartoon quality, and makes his character compelling. In a marketplace where studios are trying to capitalize on the Christian market, mostly with dramas, but also comically, it’s interesting to see a mainstream comedy, with seemingly no intention of doing so, having more success at revealing a Christian ethos to a decidedly post-Christian audience than those with that very agenda. In the film, it’s clear early on that Jan’s a self-made man pursuing the American Dream until – after unintentionally stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars – he’s nearly arrested and prays for guidance. As he gets in deeper still, he goes to church and confesses that he had to lie to protect his original deception and his investment. But, each time that he turns to God, he’s tempted again and…greed wins out. In the end, as his son is dying, Jan genuinely prays and even says he’s willing to accept God’s punishment. Moments later, he’s arrested. He’s ecstatic! God has answered his prayer and…his son wakes up! Knowing it’s his deserved punishment, Jan goes to prison, but once there another inmate stabs and nearly kills him, and then his wife divorces him. Even then he accepts this still believing it to be God’s discipline. Upon his release from prison, there’s no one there to pick him up; this he was not prepared for, yet again…he’s prepared to accept it. But then his son and best friend arrive, and Jan sees hope and an opportunity to repair both broken relationships. The Polka King is a story of redemption; in a comic way, we see Jan try to get God to fix his problem despite having no relationship with Him. Like so often in life, God’s answer is either “no” or “not yet” and He seems to allow Jan’s greed and selfishness to draw him to his financial, emotional and spiritual “bottom.” It’s only when Jan honestly cries out to the only one he believes can truly help that we see God’s justice and mercy in response to Jan’s genuine prayer and desire for atonement. This film will likely never be shown at a church as an ideal example of how God works, but is an apt picture of how we so often try to work God.

About the Author: Richard Turner
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