February 28, 2012


“The Vow” was a MUCH better movie than I thought it would be. It has the feel of a Nicholas Sparks tale, but even better. 

“The Vow” is based on the true story of a wife who is in a car accident, has some of her memory (namely the time frame of meeting her husband and their subsequent marriage and life together) erased. Will she be able to fall in love all over again with the man she married? The husband (Channing Tatum) is the main character, who narrates.

“The Vow” (there’s also a book by the same name) is based on a true story of a Christian couple to whom this very thing happened. The book keeps all the Christian references while the movie expunges every last one. The actual couple themselves are “at peace” with how the movie turned out because they know it will have wider appeal that way. In one way, without any religion, the film shows that marriage is a natural institution, that human beings know that the vows we make to each other are sacred things.

This extremely unique situation has a further twist to it: Paige (the fine actress, Rachel McAdams) already had a sea change in her life before the accident. She was a wealthy, preppy, “left brain” gal engaged to a wealthy, preppy, left brain guy. But something caused her to reinvent herself. She cut herself off from her family, quit law school, moved downtown, went to the Art Institute and became a successful sculptor. In her new “right brain” life, she met a fellow artistic type, Leo (the fine actor, Channing Tatum) and married him.

After the accident, Paige is willing to give life with Leo a go, mainly because the doctor told her that carrying out her “usual routine” could help her get her memory back (the last thing she remembers is law school and being engaged to Jeremy). Leo, of course, is suffering tremendously because of this strange estrangement. He is madly in love with Paige—Paige knows it and feels bad, but she not only doesn’t remember Leo, she doesn’t remember anything about her re-invented self. She feels much more comfortable back at her parents’ home and with her old friends…including Jeremy.

In “The Vow,” the dialogue is fresh and unexpected. There are many ways to say “I love you” (the sign of a well-told love story), feelings are not equated with love, love is not equated with sex, the whole person is taken into account in a highly civilized manner, nothing is cutesy or trite. The exposition is hidden and well seeded throughout the film, with lots of “little touches,” e.g., when Paige awakens from her coma she thinks her hair is “weird,” which tells us that not only does she not recognize Leo, she doesn’t recognize herself.

The emotional sleaze factor (“women’s porn”) is low because of the non-cloying camerawork. It doesn’t linger on long smooches or even the occasional semi-nude body. And yet the film is totally romantic, mostly because Channing Tatum—in his “manly man” way—expresses profound and tender affection for Paige. (I still can’t decide if Channing Tatum--as in his other movies--is: 1. A genius at pretending to emote the way women wish men would emote, 2. Showing us what men really do feel but don’t like to or can’t seem to reveal, 3. Showing us what only some men feel. I think I need some guys to weigh in on this.)

What would you do in this situation? My first thought when I first heard the plot of this movie was: Um, wouldn’t extenuating circumstances release the wife from her vow? Evidently this woman did not believe so! (And the Christian wife in reality didn’t feel God/the Bible released her from her vow just because of a brain injury!)

There is much voiceover (Leo’s) in the film (Channing Tatum does a superb job with this, too) trying to explain (fallaciously) that we ARE our memories, so what happens to our identity when they go away (somewhat the same argument for Alzheimer’s patients)? Theology of the BODY, baby. Doesn’t matter if we are conscious, self-conscious, unconscious, subconscious, asleep, dreaming, daydreaming, wishing, forgetting, in a coma, catnapping, zoning out, spacing out…we still are who we are.

There is another theme about the “impact of moments” which gets so obfuscated that it sounded like a plot point from “Inception.” But no matter. This is a lovely love story with pretty much healthy, down-to-earth, realistic, playful, mature, reverent male-female relationships, with even an emphasis on needing time alone, unattached, to be ourselves and find ourselves before we can truly make a gift of ourselves to another.


--Filmed in Chicago. On cloudy days. Which are very typical of Chicago. The Music Box! The “L”! The Bean! The Art Institute! The Chicago River!

--In reality, the wife NEVER got that part of her memory back!

--“The Mneumonic Café” was a bit over the top.

--Very genuine relationship struggles. Good.

--Affairs are a very bad thing. Good.

--“The Vow” has a simple, plain (but not anti-climactic) ending. Like life. Good.

--I think this film says very eloquently in the dialogue what many people feel and live in their love relationships, but don’t have the words for. BJP2G said “not enough is made of ordinary love.”

--One of the screenwriters, Jason Katims, was a writer for “Friday Night Lights” which supposedly had a strong, loving, realistic married couple in the show. Another writer, Abby Kohn, is known for the films “Never Been Kissed” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” both of which have some great portrayals of true love.

--The director, Michael Sucsy, is a total “got-out-of-the-way-director.” He’s invisible. I LOVE that. The only other thing he seems to be really known for is “Grey Gardens” with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

--A young dude sold me my movie ticket.
Young dude: “Are you a……..?”
Me: “Nun.”
Young dude: “That’s tight.”
Me: “Yeah, I write the movie reviews for the Catholic paper in Chicago.”
Young dude: “That’s tight. You’re gonna see a lot of Christian parallels in this movie.”
Me: “That’s tight.” [No, actually, I told him how the real couple WERE Christians. A fact he didn’t know.]

--People often ask me how they (or I, with my vow of chastity) can keep “pure” while watching romantic movies or steamy scenes in movies.

#1. “Know Thyself.” Know what is an occasion of sin for you in particular, and avoid those kind of movies or look away at the “steamy” parts or parts that are particularly troublesome for you.  Everyone has different sensibilities and thresholds. But we have to have a well-informed, well-formed, delicate (not scrupulous or lax) consciences and be very, very honest with ourselves.

#2. Much of visual media is voyeuristic--it’s just the nature of the beast, and depending on the intentions of the filmmakers and the cinematography, we will be either MORE or LESS put in the position of the voyeur. Even if not sexual in nature, we may be pulled in close to a very realistic portrayal of something else generally personal or private (e.g., suffering, pain, embarrassment, relationships, conversations, failure, etc.) Again, know yourself, but also watch the movements of your mind and heart. Am I gloating over something evil? Siding with the bad guy? Getting some kind of twisted pleasure from another’s misfortune? Enjoying something lewd and crude? Lowering my personal standards and morals with each crass movie I see? Always humanize the characters on the screen in your mind and feel toward them as you should feel toward real people. All media is virtual reality, and virtual reality is real: “real in its appearance and real in its effects.”

#3. Viewing a film is supposed to be an exercise where we put ourselves in the position of the characters (especially the main character) and vicariously go through an experience with them. However, if this experience is going to cause us to sin now or later, we need to shut down physically and emotionally for a time, look away, walk out of the theater, fast forward, shut off the device we’re watching the film on, etc. Therefore: I don’t gaze into Channing Tatum’s eyes for long stints with Rachel McAdams, or ogle his ripped pecs every time he takes his shirt off (which is quite often). It  kinda hasta do with human dignity, too. Channing is getting paid to sell emotions, to tantalize, to provoke reactions, to be looked at. He is very willing to do this. But is it fully in keeping with his human dignity for millions of female strangers to stare at his body and perhaps even lust after him? Just because he’s willing and getting paid and I ostensibly paid to see him, does that mean I get to just glue my eyes to his body? No. Repecting human dignity means affording people their dignity even when they themselves don’t care about it. And this must also be a tough call for actors when it seems appropriate to the part, or just part of the job, or they feel very comfortable in their own skin, etc.

#4. Pray. Media is spiritual, powerful, influential, ubiquitous. Pray for enlightenment, strength, wisdom, discernment and for ill effects not to harm you as you use media. Ask God to let you see only things that will help you or help you help others (even if some might be somewhat unsavory), and to know how to turn them around for your good and the good of others. Ask to be the fragrance of Christ in a media world. Pray to engage the media and other media creators/users with the Gospel. Pray for the honesty to use media in the best way possible, to not waste time, to not sin in your use of media. Go to Confession when you use media improperly: specifically to sin, to waste time, to escape from real duties or people, (and some of the uses mentioned above), etc.

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  1. Anonymous5:58 PM

    Thank U Sr. Helena for this wonderful insightful Review of "The Vow".I have been anxious to go see
    it. Thanks, too, for taking the time by further sharing philosophically your own reactions and our own responsibility when we go to the Movies to be entertained;your words are an education in itself--a nice short-cut for some of us who want to, but do not have the time, to delve deeper to learn how to avoid what sometimes can be a temptation. You did good --a big THANKS~~~~I'm
    glad I checked your Blog...Inspiring~~
    ~~A friend of the DSP (aska "S")

  2. Dear "S,"

    Glad you like the review and "Sister H's Tips for Romance Movie Viewing"! ha ha.

    God bless

  3. Dear Sr. Helena ,

    Thank You for your vocation, love for God and all His creation. I am divorced from a 38 yr old gal who took our four living children:) three girls and a boy ages 12, 10 8 and 6, to see " The Vow,and was wondering your thoughts. My ex wife grew up a Lutheran . converted when she met me, and has since fallen away from the Church and testifies that she is not sure what she is, and does not take the kids to Church on her weekends. I do not want to get in a disagreement we have had enough of those already. She took all of them to see the Hunger Games as well. Our oldest had read the book, but way to inappropriate in my opinion for the other children. With society raping the innocence of our children at younger and younger ages, I was wondering if you could make a suggestion on how to deal with my ex wife on this situation in the future. In Jesus and Mary, Anthony

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