THE VOW: The Secret of Lasting Love

If you expect to be in the market for a “date movie” in the next few weeks, chances are that THE VOW will be on your list. The hit movie starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum released on DVD a few days ago, and it will probably be a hot item for a little while.

In light of that, I offer some thoughts on the movie, its message, and the real power of a marriage commitment built on Christ. In case you haven’t seen the movie yet, I VOW not to give away the important plot twists: 

“I vow to faithfully love you, in all your forms, now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is a once-in-a-lifetime-love.”

Chances are, these are not the same vows that you recited at your wedding, (or, if you are single, that you will one day recite). But undoubtedly, these words, pledged by the nervous groom in the movie The Vow, felt just as binding as traditional wedding vows. After all, when Leo promised to love Paige faithfully, in all of her forms, forever, he had no way of knowing how her form would change.  

Within a few short years of those words, as the result of a horrific car crash, Paige slips into a comma. When she finally wakes, she has NO memory of her husband; no memory of the last five years; no memories beyond living with her parents, studying at law school, pursuing another life . . . and being in love with another man.

In her new form, she does not even know Leo . . . much less love him. She no longer wants to live in their home; no longer wants to hear about their past. She feels confused and unsure of how to respond to this strange man who claims to love her, but she feels sure that she needs space. And Leo, who promised to love her faithfully and eternally, is left wondering whether their “once-in-a-lifetime love” will return for a second try.

For all of its flaws, (and it does have several), The Vow illustrates a truth that most young couples fail to grasp: namely, that love takes strength and effort. The couple at the altar exchanging vows of faith and fidelity seldo allow themselves to imagine the things that can go wrong on the way to “forever”.  They pledge undying devotion, and mean it. But those vows, uttered during the best of times, seem much heavier during life’s worst moments.

Without trying to spiritualize a decidedly secular movie, I wonder how many couples, as the result of some life change, awake one day to an unrecognizable relationship – one in which they struggle to remember how they fell in love or why they got married or how they ever got to this place in life? How many couples have allowed their love for one another to collapse into deluded fantasies about the past – what if we had never met; what if I had taken a different path; what if I had married someone else. More than a few marriages have dissolved in the dreamy utopia of those types of fantasies.

I suppose that is why I found the concept of The Vow so intriguing. I wondered how Leo, whose unquestioned love for Paige burned as brightly as ever, would respond to the crises at hand. It also explains why I so deeply appreciated his efforts to make Paige fall in love with him all over again. I cheered his commitment and I felt his frustration, and I understood when he felt that he had nothing else to give. His love for Paige seemed pure and sacrificial, and he never to forced her hand or manipulated her. He respected her in every way. In that, the makers of The Vow get my kudos.

In light of so much good, however, I must confess disappointment of this movie as well. Somehow, the makers of The Vow managed to give a picture of committed love without revealing the foundation on which it must be built.  You see, The Vow is based on the real life story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, two devout Christians who met, fell in love, and were soon married. Just ten months into their marriage, Krickitt survived a car wreck, but suffered extreme brain trauma. She lost 18 months of memories . . . which included her entire history with her husband.

In their book, (also titled The Vow), the couple makes it clear that their unshakable belief in God and their commitment to the vows they made before Him kept them together. For all of the reasons to walk away – the very reasons that Leo and Paige depicted in the movie – this couple stayed.

Now get this: It wasn’t their deep love for one another that kept them together. (For a while, they barely knew each other). It wasn’t their strong past that kept them together. (They had no past). It wasn’t convenience, or family, or compatibility, or even a rediscovery of Krickitt’s memory. (Sadly, she never recovered her memory). The one thing that sustained them through that horrific season of their marriage was their vows. They had each made a promise, and they honored their word.

In an interview with NBC, Kim said explained it this way, “We live in a society where vows are constantly broken…Years ago, till death do us part meant the death of a soul mate; today it’s the death of a marriage that society has accepted,”

Krickitt added to that thought in a Fox News article: “You make a promise before God with your wedding vows. You have to take that seriously.”

Do you get that? Marriage is built on a promise – a vow. Even if the passion dies, the relationship can continue because of that promise.  As we have said here before: it’s not your love that sustains your commitment, it’s your commitment that sustains your love.

The movie version of The Vow loses some of that – the screenwriters certainly could have taken a cue from Kim and Krickitt Carpenter and remembered the real reason their marriage lasted. The Carpenters reconnected with one another, repeated their vows a second time, and walked forward in faith that God would bless their union. Today, are happily married with two children. What a story!

I wish the movie had captured the full story, but despite its “Hollywood-sized” failures, it does at least give a tip of the cap to the heart of what God intended when He created marriage. Marriage is meant to be built on commitment and sacrificial love. It means remaining faithful, in all of life’s forms. It means hanging on, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live.

If you want to explore the movie or the story further, here are a few resources:

The Vow’s Real-Life Couple Laments Lack of Christian References in Film (New York Times)

Interview with Kim and Krikitt Carpenter on NBC’s Today Show

Plugged-In Review of THE VOW.

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