The story of Polycarp the martyr is one of obscure, but profound identity. Polycarp was a student under the apostle John and one of the first martyrs of the early Christian church. He was a brilliant man of faith who devoted his life to teaching others about Christ and copying the works of John to be distributed in the regions of Rome. Because his name is never mentioned in the Bible, most people overlook his importance, or his existence. But Polycarp has one of the most incredible testimonies of the early Christians.
Now, this review is going to be slightly different than the others because I want you to watch the movie; I don’t want to spoil it for you. If you know anything about the life of Polycarp, then this movie will simply bring that to life. However, if you know very little about the man, or nothing at all, this movie could very well be life-changing for you.
So, rather than babble about the history, the biblical significance, and the worldview even, I’d like to introduce to you some of the people who brought history to life.
The man behind the movie:
Joe Henline. Joe is a young, eccentric, Christian filmmaker from Cincinnati, OH. He is one of the youngest directors that I’ve ever heard of, being only a few years older than myself, yet he does an inconceivably fabulous job in this, his first feature. I had the opportunity to talk with Joe and his sister Jerica (the script writer of “Polycarp”) about the film and what effects it has had upon their lives. Not simply asking about the film itself, but really getting down to the reasons behind the making of it.
When I asked Joe why he first became a filmmaker, he had this to say:
“It wasn’t an overnight decision as much as it was like being led up a long staircase. If I’d been given the big picture all at once, I might have been too intimidated to continue. But, my heart has definitely been driven from the start by how impactful media is to humans in our culture. One of the most efficient ways to communicate with someone is through imagery and story.”
The real drive of the film is, in part, Joe Henline’s motivation to tell a culture effective story that will impact lives. Henline Productions is not in the filmmaking business to make entertainment for the sake of entertainment. There is a desire to produce wholesome and life-changing films behind this man and this company.
The woman with a story:
Jerica Henline. I’ve heard nothing but praises for Ms. Henline’s script of “Polycarp”, but I wanted to learn more about the concept. Seeking to uncover the reason behind their specific choice in the story for this film, I asked Jerica how she and Joe came by it. She explained how their father, Jerry Henline (executive producer of “Polycarp”), had been reading articles written by a pastor friend of his on early church Christians, and how those articles were the inspiration for the story.
“One day my dad asked me to read the articles, mentioning that they might be good story ideas for future film projects… I was immediately drawn to the story of Polycarp and more specifically Germanicus.”
She went on to explain about discovering how little know the historical figure Polycarp was to her generation. This became confirmation of the need for this film, to bring history to life and tell a story of true faith. As if the history of Polycarp was not powerful enough, the script for this story brings a level of realism that is nothing less than stunning. This script made random names on the pages of a history book come to life.
The man behind the man:
My path then led me to interview the man behind the character of Polycarp: Garry Nation. I’m a writer, it’s not my job, but it is a full-time passion of mine. So, I wanted to find out more than just what kind of actor he was, I wanted to know why he became an actor and discover his passion.
“Early in my sophomore year of college, I answered God’s call to the ministry of His Word. Music and drama were always an aspect of that ministry- still are, in fact.”
God opened the doors for his acting from there. Now, Garry doesn’t consider himself a Method actor, but still went to great lengths to study this obscure figure known as Polycarp.
“I never thought that playing a role would have as much impact on me as a person and as a Christian as this role has had. I knew who Polycarp was when I took the role; I had read the two paragraphs you’ll find on him in any Christian history textbook…
I wanted to get behind the script, so I did my own study of Polycarp and his writings. He is said to have written several letters to different churches, but the only one that has survived is his epistle to the Philippian church. I did my own translation from Greek because I wanted to get the feel for the way he thought and the dictation he used…”
The study he went to for this character shows in Nation’s portrayal. Many people have said that he was Polycarp in every way. The depth of story endeared this character to Nation, who described his relationship with the character as being so close that, “It was as easy and comfortable to slip in and out of character as to slip in and out of costume.”. And truly his portrayal was profoundly inspiring.
The cast and crew that made it possible:
Whenever multiple homeschooled, young, Christian filmmakers get together, there will be craziness. The Henlines did a laudable job of amassing their team for this film. From the supporting cast to the art department, production was meticulous and superb. Speaking of, here is a perspective of the art department from one of the support cast: Andrew Hurt, a centurion of Rome.
“We had a stellar team, both in wardrobe and art! They did an amazing amount of research and paid attention detail. The leaf mail shirt that I wore was hand made by the wardrobe people, link by link! With that kind of quality, it made our job as actors to immerse ourselves into the time era a lot easier…
One thing that I thought was really neat that the art department did, was getting real papyrus scrolls and plants for the actors to work with; then they took the time to write on the scrolls in a foreign language!”
It’s evident that good was not good enough for these people and for this movie. Nothing but the absolute best they could give to this movie and to God was even considered. Because of that faithfulness, and integrity, God has blessed this company, these people, and this film with tremendous success. It was also clear that they had fun while doing it. I asked four people what the funniest moment on set was, and I received four different answers.
Every person I spoke with about this film described it as being one of the spiritual high points of their lives. Andrew Hurt described the atmosphere in this way: “We had film and Christ as common ground”. Garry Nation commented, “Everyone seemed to be swept up into something much bigger than making a movie.”, and Jerica Henline called it, “A turning point”, in her personal walk with the Lord. This film changes the lives of everyone it touches in a positive way, from the filmmakers to the viewers. I highly recommend you watch it. I believe it will impact your life like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
As always, thanks for reading.
—the anonymous novelist