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Hitting the box office big this week (and just before Valentine’s Day) is the romantic date movie, “The Vow,” inspired by a true story with a fascinating premise that sounds like it was written for the silver screen.

The film follows a newlywed couple who get into a car accident that leaves the wife with a brain injury. The resulting amnesia wipes her memory of their entire relationship, setting her “memory clock” back to before they even met. She can neither remember her husband nor their marriage, and, in fact, her most recent memory is of being engaged to another man.

Can the husband restore his wife’s memory of their life together? And if not, can he woo her to fall in love with him all over again? What a great set-up for a romantic movie.

And for the most part, the film is sweet and delightful. It’s a fun “what if” premise, even if it did happen to a real-life couple.

Actress Rachel McAdams steals the show as an engaging, trusting, funny, beautiful young wife who is nonetheless torn between the family she remembers and the man who claims to be her family now. Actor Channing Tatum as the husband won’t win an Oscar for his performance, but was nonetheless charming in a befuddled sort of way, a man whose heart is clearly caught in a vise, not knowing exactly how to woo his wife without crowding and frightening her with what seems so unfamiliar.

Romantic films are often judged on the chemistry between the lead actors and the way the movie either makes you smile or cry or, preferably, both. Through a pair of rosy glasses, “The Vow” does fairly well in each of those areas and will likely please the romantics in the audience, while the cynics … well, romantic movies aren’t really for the cynics, are they?

“The Vow,” in the end, has all the ingredients of a great date movie. It has more heart and more thoughtfulness than the typical (sex-laden) romantic comedy, but doesn’t take itself so seriously as some of the sappy tear-jerkers that leave most men in the audience wishing they were somewhere else.

But what about the movie’s messages on romance and marriage? Does it actually present a godly picture of love, or does it undermine biblical truth, as so many Hollywood movies do?

It would seem “The Vow” intentionally sets up a paradox through the voice of its husband character, who narrates at the beginning a “theory” of his that “moments of high intensity, of impact, actually define who we are.”

“Each one of us,” he philosophizes, “is the sum total of every moment we’ve ever experienced with all the people we’ve ever known.”

His “theory” smacks of B.F. Skinner’s radical behaviorism, a very naturalistic view of human nature that makes man nothing more than the sum of experiences, without any room for innate character traits, a soul or a God who may have sovereignly designed our personalities. The theory cannot stand in the light of biblical truth, for it fundamentally removes God from its very mathematical equation.

But as it turns out, the theory doesn’t stand in the light of the story, either. As the husband comes to learn in “The Vow’s” very kismet-like conclusion, the loss of his wife’s memories cannot stop her deepest personality and passions from breaking through, from driving her down the same path she walked even before her memory loss.

At an intentional level, I think the moviemakers created the contrast on purpose, a romantic sort of notion that fate overcomes all obstacles to bring true love back together again.

And were that all the film communicated, I could praise “The Vow” for stomping on Skinner’s foolishness and affirming the existence of some greater power – albeit unnamed, whether soul or fate or God – at work in the ways of love.

But “The Vow” suffers from one, major flaw that my wife pointed out to me afterward: For a movie about marriage vows, the main characters don’t seem to care much about them.

The wife, even after watching herself make her wedding vows on video, quickly disregards them. She doesn’t remember her husband, anyway. Too quickly in the film, she files for divorce.

The husband, who of course remembers it all, begins on a good track, willing to walk with his wife in patience and steadfastness, true to his wedding vows. But after a while, he resigns: “I give up. If we were meant to be together, we would be together.” Then he signs the divorce papers.

What?

I thought this was a movie about, oh, I don’t know, a vow?

What if it wasn’t a car accident? What if it was Alzheimer’s? What if it was infidelity? Is a marriage vow only a temporary contract between agreeing parties? If so, then why bother saying things like “always” or “forever” or “for better or for worse”?

Granted, it would have been a bit cliché for the husband to stick with her, to fight for her, to stay true to his vow until she returned to him, if she returned to him. It might be too neat and tidy for the sophisticates in Hollywood.

But without it, the film falls short of exhorting biblical love and marriage. And without it, ultimately, the movie has no business being called “The Vow.”

Content advisory:

  • “The Vow” contains roughly 15 total obscenities and profanities, a few of which stick our sorely in the script, but a pretty tame total for a PG-13 film.

 

  • The movie does contain some sexuality and partial nudity. In a few scenes, the married couple passionately kiss and move toward clearly implied sex, but the camera tastefully pans away before anything graphic is seen. Nonetheless, there is a shot where the two wake up in bed only covered (strategically) by the sheets, and the husband appears shirtless several times, while he is seen once in full rear nudity. There’s some minor sexual flirting and innuendo, and there’s a pair of scenes where both husband and wife appear only in their underwear – including one in which they run so clad into Lake Michigan and back.

 

  • The movie’s only violence consists of the somewhat stylized, slow-motion car crash, it’s resulting bloody injuries and a scene in which the husband punches a man out of anger.

 

  • Save for an Asian, perhaps Hindu, statue in the background during one scene, “The Vow” has no religious or occult references.

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