‘Til Later In Life Do We Part
As I sat to watch the newest chick-flick to hit red box, I couldn’t help but let my expectations soar out in front me as I thought about the title and all that it could mean. “The Vow.” Maybe, just maybe, could the title refer to the promise and commitment of marriage? This is a romance after all. Maybe this will be the movie to portray characters who actually look at the vows, who read what they say, who take that seriously, and who live that out in light of hard circumstances. Maybe this will be the movie where the promise actually holds true “in good times and bad” or “in sickness and in health.” Finally, a movie to take marriage seriously; if any plot line gives the characters the opportunity to take marriage seriously it is this one.
The following contains spoilers, if that’s the sort of thing you care about when reading a reflection on a Nicholas Sparks-adapted movie.
The movie starts out with the well-executed juxtaposition of one fateful moment, a tragic car accident, with many moments shared by a loving young couple—a meeting, a first date, a wedding, etc. The rest of the movie then depicts how that accident affects the young marriage as the wife, Paige, wakes up from a coma without any of the memories from the last five years of her life, essentially erasing her husband, Leo, from her memory. In no way do I wish to downplay the difficulties of this situation. It would be almost unimaginably hard and certainly fraught with tricky moral questions. But I do want to look at the message this movie sends about marriage, especially given the title of this movie is “The Vow.”
The agony and loss felt by both parties is consuming, with Leo experiencing his own private hell of rejection as his most cherished memories now haunt him as a reminder of what used to be. While Leo struggles to make his surprisingly disinterested wife fall back into love with him, changing who he is to suit her new/old identity, Paige is sent scrambling in a fearful retreat. For almost the entire movie she is reluctant to discover her past and is obsessed with what she already knows, what is comfortable—that which will define the “new Paige.” Throughout this struggle to reverse engineer a loveless (and history-less) relationship, the director continually cuts back to the characters being reminded of the vows they took on their wedding day; they watch the tape from their unique art gallery wedding or find the menu with their nuptial script scrawled on the back. Watching the movie, each time the vows are read, I am filled with hope despite their bleak situation – a hope for sincerity. And still, Leo signs the divorce papers, nobly freeing Paige to rediscover herself.
In an appeal to patience and understanding, the vows they took are no longer binding. I suppose their situation transcends “always” and “forever;” those words don’t seem to mean very much anymore. But is this as it should be? What is the function of a vow swearing unity in hard times if when hard times fall the vow is cast aside? If what seems to make emotional sense conflicts with what seems to make moral sense, what are we to do? Replaying this movie in my head, I’m left wondering what the title refers to because it certainly isn’t the vow they made on their wedding day.