The Vow: Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

I went to see The Vow with some friends and everyone loved it…everyone except me.  I mean, I enjoyed it, but something nagged at me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until now.  I think it has to do with the title.

Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are very happily married until a car accident leaves Paige with amnesia.  When she wakes from her coma, she is essentially in another place in time, years ago, when she was engaged to another man, in law school, and happily connected to her parents.  She has forgotten her father’s affair with a girl her age, her consequent estrangement from her family, her decision to pursue art instead of law, and most significantly, she has forgotten Leo, her husband.

The movie traces Paige’s journey as she struggles to recapture what she has lost.  She tries going back into her life with her stranger-husband, but finds more comfort in going home to be with her family.  She still feels very much in love with her ex-fiancé, Jeremy, so she reconnects with him.  He is more than willing to get back together with her; she broke up with him, after all.  She is tempted, but begins to realize that even though she cannot remember all the things which brought her to this place in life, there must have been reasons why she left him in the first place, and she needs to discover what those were. 

She and Leo get a divorce.  Not because Leo wants to, but because she isn’t in love with him, and because she’s really overwhelmed by everything.  It seems that being married to someone you don’t even know feels a little stifling, understandably. 

In the end, because Paige is still Paige, she makes all the same decisions she made the first go-round.  She again quits law school to become an artist, again rejects Jeremy, and once again she ends up with Leo.  Same song, second verse. 

It’s a sweet movie and has a lot of redeeming moments and messages.  Maybe it’s because I just hate to jump on the bandwagon, and I sometimes feel a need to be a little bit contrary that I feel a need to point out something negative about it.  Maybe it’s my need for balance—feeling deep down that someone has to provide a little perspective to all the rave reviews.   Whatever the reason, here is what’s been nagging me about it.

The movie is called The Vow.  A vow is a commitment, a promise made before God and man.  In this case, they are specifically referring to marriage vows.  The title leads you to believe that this couple is going to work out their challenges, no matter what, for the sake of the commitment they made before God and man, for the sake of their vow.  The title leads you to believe that the point of the movie will be their commitment to each other.  It leads you to believe that their commitment, their will, their decisions, and determination will supersede their feelings, and in fact help them navigate their feelings. 

Certainly, in the case of Leo, you could argue that this is largely true.  Of course, he still remembers everything about his wife and is still very much in love with her, so fighting to hold their marriage together could arguably be for the sake of the vows he took, or for the sake of the fact that he still feels very much in love with her anyway.  Having her as his wife is what he wants, it is in line with his feelings and desires, so it doesn’t really test the powers of his commitment.  Frankly, if I can be a bit (more) cynical here, one could argue that his willingness to divorce her is evidence that his commitment to her wore out with her unresponsiveness.  He wanted her back, but finally it was less painful to be divorced than it was to fight for her.  He still seems to be operating out of his feelings versus his sense of duty to his vows.  I’m not saying it’s not understandable.  I also recognize that it could be argued that he was trying to do what he felt was best for his wife.  Like I said, that was a cynical take on Leo, who I found to be far more heroic than Paige. 

If I was cynical about Leo, then I’m sure I’ll seem really harsh on Paige.  She was in a tough spot, to be sure.  I wonder, though, if this movie was in a culture that had arranged marriages if people would be less sympathetic to her plight?  In American culture, where we marry for love, and divorce for the lack of it, of course we sympathize with her when she goes back to her ex and divorces Leo.  Who can blame her?  Right? 

Let me remind you though, the movie isn’t titled Amnesia.  It’s titled The Vow.  It leads us to believe that their commitment is strong enough to weather any storms that life throws at it.  Her behavior throughout the movie has almost nothing to do with any sense of obligation to vows she made, but is instead motivated by her feelings.  Since her feelings ultimately lead her right back to Leo, we are so caught up in the happy ending full of lovey-dovey feelings that we forget that we have somehow been duped—that what we came to see, a movie about commitment and honor and devotion, is not at all what we really got. 

I know the movie was inspired by a true story.  If this was how the true story played out, I might still have the same opinions, but I would perhaps have less room to criticize.  It is hard to know what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.  However, the Hollywood version isn’t quite true to the real story.  According to Focus on the Family in this article,

It was a Christian couple from New Mexico, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter … A car accident robbed Krickitt of 18 months of memories just ten weeks into their marriage, including any memory of Kim. …At the time, the young husband, though devastated, was resolute in his commitment to help his bride …  “I made a vow before God,” he explains,” ‘until death do you part.'” … Unlike in the movie, the Carpenters didn’t divorce. And unlike in the film, there were no other love interests to contend with. Instead, they gutted out a grueling process—and kept their sacred vows.[1]

 I’m not against Hollywood adding another love interest, but I would have liked for them to also show her running away from temptation, because of her vows.  (Granted, she didn’t have an affair with Jeremy, but she did undeniably open that door.)  I guess at the heart of it is this question: Is amnesia a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to a sacred vow?  Whether the issue was Jeremy or divorce, the root of it comes down to this: Is marriage about what you feel and what you want, or is it about what you commit to?  Does the fact that she had amnesia make it OK that she didn’t honor her vows?  I know it makes it understandable, but that’s not the question.  I think it was my principal, Rod Morris, who used to say, “That explains it, but it doesn’t excuse it.”  I guess that’s how I feel about this movie. 

I know this comes across a little harsh.  It’s just that Satan’s lies are so subtle.  We watch a sweet movie about love and are duped into thinking it was a movie about commitment, when it really wasn’t.  If we miss the deception, how much easier is it to miss those same areas of deception when applied to our own lives?  We must be vigilant and aware.  Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”[2]  We need to take that seriously, even when, or maybe especially when, we are just going out for a bit of entertainment.

On a more positive note, I just want to point out that, if we don’t take the cynical view of Leo and instead assume that all he did was selfless and motivated only by his love and commitment to Paige, this story mirrors the Christian story beautifully.  We are like Paige, forgetting the One who loves us and gave His life for us.  We wander back to our former loves.  We ask for our freedom. 

Then there’s Christ, doing all He can to woo us again, to show His faithfulness and His love to us.  He suffers as we wander, but He is always waiting and ready to take us back, hoping with all His heart that we will come back.  He always operates in faithfulness to his covenant with us.  The Bible assures us that He is faithful; He will never leave us nor forsake us.[3]  The Lord is always faithful to His Word; He keeps His promises.  He is the faithful lover, and when we return to Him, just like Paige, we will rediscover just how much we love Him.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What did you think about The Vow
  • Do you think Paige and Leo were faithful to their commitment to each other? 
  • What do you think you would do if you were in either of their shoes?
  • Have you ever been loved unconditionally?
  • Have you ever been tested to honor a commitment even when you didn’t feel like it?
  • Do you think amnesia was a good reason for divorce?
  • Which story do you think is better, the Hollywood version or the real version?
  • Do you know the faithful love of Jesus, the love that will never fail no matter what you may do?

Click here to see a compilation of quotes from The Vow.