Miracles at the movies

It sometimes feels hard to grasp the magnitude of a miracle. But we are fortunate to live in a society in which our culture serves as an astute documentarian of human majesty.

It is true of literature, film, music and other arts but it occurred to me that the themes of Hanukkah are especially prevalent right now at the movies. The theaters are filled with reverberations of the miraculous, miracles large and small, tender and hard won, encompassing and discrete.

As in the Hanukkah story, about the triumph of a small rebellion over a mighty army, there can be seen grand miracles that bring sweeping change and alter the course of history (Les Misérables). Historic achievements that free the fettered and elevate the dignity of humankind sometimes depend on the radical courage of one brave soul (Lincoln). Others require an army, and prove that in the service of great miracles, such as bringing evil to justice, complicated, even ugly work is required (Zero Dark Thirty). And it is something of a miracle itself that in the movies, even history can seem small, shrunken, and ephemeral in the scope of cosmic connection (Cloud Atlas), the nature of the universe and the existence of God (Life of Pi).

Where do these reverberative effects begin? With the power of one: a Matthathias, an Abraham Lincoln, a CIA operative who risks his life to rescue others (Argo). Because it is sometimes in the small, private act, the secret contours of the heart that the deepest miracles are felt. There is wonder in the enfoldment of arms (The Sessions), the constant friend (The Twilight Saga), the resilient marriage (This is 40), the enduring love (Amour).

All of these stories are reflections of the religious, the journey from darkness to light, from estrangement to intimacy, hopelessness to faith. Hanukkah, the light-filled holiday takes place during the darkest part of the year. Each night (and indeed at every Jewish holiday), we kindle flames at sundown. It is a reminder that darkness is the beginning of light, just as a dark theater signals the beginning of illumination.