Do you believe in love at first sight?
Leo might. The moment he saw Paige and her Chicago parking permit, he knew he had to ask her out. His come-on line? We share the same parking region, so we should grab a drink together—out of respect for our zone compatibility.
Two weeks later, Paige says she loves him. Before long, he's asking her to move in via a message spelled out in breakfast blueberries. They get married in a makeshift service at an art museum. They're set up to live happily ever after, until—
Bam! On a snowy Chicago evening, a truck smashes into the back of their tiny car, sending Paige through the windshield and both of them to the hospital. Leo isn't hurt too badly, but Paige has suffered serious trauma to her brain. She's kept in a forced coma until doctors deem it's safe to bring her out.
When that moment comes, Leo perches expectantly by her bedside, watching his beloved groggily take in her surroundings. She looks at him, puzzled. When she's told that she was in a car accident, she slowly asks if anyone else was hurt. Leo stares at her for a moment.
"Paige, you know who I am, right?"
"Yeah. You're my doctor."
Paige has no memory of the accident, of her time with Leo, of the last several years. She's no longer the independent artist he knew—the lovable yet somewhat embittered woman who'd severed all ties to her family. This Paige remembers being in law school. She remembers her mother and father with deep affection. And she remembers being engaged … to another man.
Leo has a certificate and wedding video to prove they're married and memorabilia to show how madly in love they were. But for Paige, Leo's a stranger and the life she was living is, literally, unimaginable. For this new Paige—this old Paige—home isn't with Leo anymore.
Love at first sight? Leo might still believe in that. But he's not so sure he's going to be so lucky the second time around.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
"Love is patient, love is kind," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. "It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."
Paul's vision of love is very often mirrored by Leo in The Vow. Thrust into a new life with a wife who doesn't know him, much less love him, Leo is in a tight spot. But he doesn't try to rush things. He's patient and kind—desperately hoping that Paige will regain her memories but content to let her process this new life at her own speed. It's painful to watch. You know he wants to wrap his arms around her and make everything OK. But she won't let that happen. And when it seems as though her memories aren't going to come back anytime soon, Leo settles on a radical course of action: He decides to take Paige out on a first date. "I gotta make my wife fall in love with me again," he tells a friend.
Of course we can't blame Paige for the distance between them. She tells Leo that she deeply wants to return his love. That she doesn't want to hurt him. But the last Paige remembers, she was in love with another guy. And as she essentially weaves together a new life from the tatters of her old one(s), she does her best to make what she feels are the right decisions.
While Paige's loss of memory would seem an unmitigated disaster, it actually opens the door for something beautiful: Before, she had walked away from her family, wanting nothing to do with any of them. But because of the accident, her mother and father come back into her life. And while there's still a lot of baggage to sort through—for one thing, Mom and Dad flagrantly shove Leo out of the picture—Paige and her parents seem well on the way to true reconciliation at the end.
We learn of an affair happening in the midst of a long-term marriage. And when the wife is asked why she didn't leave her husband over the matter, she says, "I chose to stay with him for all the things he did right. I chose to forgive him."
Nothing of note to report here. But there should have been. More on that in the Conclusion.
The Vow doesn't confuse love with sex. But there's still sensuality at play here. Right before the accident, Paige begins to smooch and make out with Leo. "A girl's guaranteed to get preggers if she does it in a car," she says. Leo gives Paige a negligee, and it's clear that she's a frequent overnight guest before they get hitched. Pre-injury, the two are shown in various stages of foreplay, and in one scene they lie on a couch in presumably post-coital slumber, barely covered by a blanket. Then, on a post-accident date, they strip down to their undies and jump into the lake. Back at their apartment, Paige and Leo begin to kiss passionately. She tells him that he's not getting further than first base—then amends it to second. There's talk of tickling turning Paige on. Leo plays a suggestive voice mail for her, hoping it'll spur some recollection.
We see Paige in a towel and Leo shirtless. Leo exposes his backside to the camera as he walks naked to the bathroom. Audiences don't see him from the front, but Paige—who, remember, thinks of Leo as a stranger—does. "It's not funny," she says, snickering a little (and wearing only underwear herself) as Leo covers himself. "You should knock."
Post-accident Paige has a thing for one-time fiancé Jeremy. She visits him at his office and the two share a hug—then a kiss. "Habit, I guess," she explains, perhaps partly to herself. At a party, Jeremy tells Leo about the encounter, goading him. When Leo tells Jeremy that Paige "outgrew" him once before, and that she'll likely do so again, Jeremy snaps back, "I will mull that over while I'm in bed with your wife."
When the truck smashes into the back of Paige and Leo's car, the scene shifts into slow motion as Paige floats forward, her head smashing through the windshield in a spray of glass. The camera then pulls back for a bird's-eye view of her lying, motionless, on the hood of the car.
Leo punches Jeremy in the face, drawing blood.
Crude or Profane Language
A half-dozen s-words. We hear either one, two or three instances of the following swears: "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n," "a‑‑" and "d‑‑k." God's name is abused at least 10 times, once with "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine and other alcoholic beverages are consumed frequently, making appearances during every date, party and get-together. Though no one gets obviously drunk, it's possible that alcohol plays a part in Leo punching Jeremy. "You could use a drink," Paige's father tells him in advance of the confrontation, carrying a bottle of Scotch. "I've already had several," Leo says, but accepts another. Paige orders a blueberry Mojito.
Other Negative Elements
Leo passes gas in the car, and Paige solemnly rolls up the windows. "That is so twisted," Leo says, "but totally romantic." The two get married in a museum without the institution's permission, requiring them to flee as soon as the vows are exchanged.
Paige's family, worried about losing contact with her again, keep a painful family secret from her. Even worse, they use her injury as a way to pull her away from her husband.
For weeks, maybe months, Leo urgently tries to get his wife back. He does everything he can to jog her memory. When that doesn't work, he decides to try to make her fall for him all over again. But it's all for naught it seems: Paige, stuck in her life of years earlier, still looks at Jeremy like a lover. And her family, in an effort to reclaim their little girl, pushes Leo away too. He's spending so much time desperately trying to woo Paige that, slowly, his life begins to unravel. Bills stack up. His business—a startup recording studio—suffers.
Paige's father has an out: Divorce her, he says, and I'll make your overdue bills go away. Leo spurns the offer … at first. But it's not working with Paige. She's not happy with him playing this role of legally sanctioned interloper. She loves another man. In her mind, she never really married him to begin with.
So Leo signs the divorce papers. And he hates doing it with all his heart.
It's hard to classify the scene. Some might argue that this is Leo's ultimate display of sacrificial love—giving his wife the life she seems to want and need. Divorce is wrong, but should we be held to vows we have no memory of?
The movie's not quite sure. But for the couple whose real-life story inspired The Vow, the answer is yes.
Kim and Krickitt Carpenter had been married just 10 weeks when a car crash robbed 18 months of memories from Krickitt. But they didn't split. For three years, they worked at rebuilding their relationship, and they renewed their vows in a second ceremony—a testament not just to sacrificial love, but to a sacred commitment.
"You make a promise before God with your wedding vows," Krickitt said. "You have to take that seriously."
The Carpenters are Christians, and they decided to live out the requirements of their faith in a really extreme way. The Vow, stripped of its real-life Christian core, is still a moving recitation of love in action, romance under fire and the gallantry of a man who would even give up his own heart for the sake of his girl. And yet the story loses something in translation. The Vow's vow is broken. And while that allows us to see the beauty of sacrificial love, we miss out on an equally important part of love—unflagging commitment.
In the film it's not Leo and Paige who model the hard, sometimes heartrending commitment that lives at the core of the marriage covenant. It's another couple, the couple who struggles through an affair. Their situation is one in which most Christians would admit the justified possibility of divorce. So the fact that the wife chooses to forgive her husband becomes perhaps one of the most moving onscreen moments.
The Vow is about romantic love—an inspiring, sacrificial, beautiful sort of romantic love, to be sure. But it loses sight of its own title and, in so doing, fails to talk about another side of love: the hard side of love, the love we choose to cling to even when neither we nor our partner is very lovable at all.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Rachel McAdams as Paige; Channing Tatum as Leo; Jessica Lange as Rita Thornton; Sam Neill as Bill Thornton; Jessica McNamee as Gwen; Scott Speedman as Jeremy
Michael Sucsy ( )
February 10, 2012
May 8, 2012