Movie Review: The Vow

May 20, 2012 by  
Filed under On Life and Living

It is one thing to decide to go out and see a movie. It is another altogether to watch a movie that closely mirrors your own life’s struggles and tribulations

One of Jessica’s favorite pre-trauma activities was leaving her family at home to go out and catch a movie with her girlfriends. They went to the theater and were able to see movies that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. The movies could generally be classified as “chick flicks”… too mature for the kids and too emotional for the husband.

The first year after the trauma, the movie theater was not an experience Jessica could have handled with her friends. It would have required a wheelchair to get around and some serious help to get from wheelchair into a theater seat. The embarrassment of asking friends to help with such simple and intimate actions would have been too much. It is no fun being the center of attention because of a handicap.

During the second year of the recovery, movies with friends again became a part of Jess’ social life. Her confidence improved as she strengthened enough to walk through the lobby and into the theater. A few months ago, Jess made tentative plans to see “The Vow.” Her friends were afraid that the story might be too much for her to handle. The premise was that a woman’s life was completely changed due to a traumatic brain injury. That storyline is pretty much the same thing that Jessica has lived for the past few years. One of her friends checked in with me, asking “do you think she would be ok seeing this?” They feared that the story might elicit painful memories and lead to an emotional public scene.

Those plans fell through, and it’s a good thing they did. While I wouldn’t have chosen to see this movie in a theater, I figured no one could judge me if we rented it. With the kids away for the evening, a fateful decision was made. After the movie was rented and the popcorn made, we picked up the remote and pushed play. What followed was the emotional rollercoaster her friends had feared.

The Movie

The movie itself was your typical love story. Boy and girl meet and find themselves perfect for each other. They live a ridiculously happy life… the kind of life where they seem to be the two most compatible people who ever lived. They have the kind of marriage that every girl dreams of. His friends are her friends and her friends are his friends. They are the most honest and trustworthy people in the world, just two young lovers who cannot find fulfillment without the other.

And then it happens. The fateful day that changes everything. An accident that rocks her brain and steals all of her memories of him. She is confused. He is defiant. The movie rolls on as he does everything in his power to win back the woman he loves… a woman who doesn’t even know who he is.

Making the story more interesting is that her previous life is so different than her current life. An epiphany occurred right about the time she met him that resulted in some major changes in her world and how she interacted with it. In one instant, she lost all memory of being a starving artist. Her brain saw her in the context of her memories of growing up… as a privileged young woman with a silver spoon.

You can certainly guess what might happen from here. The hero enters a world he is not familiar with… a world of high society and big egos. His encounters stretch him beyond his normal comfort zone as he works to help her remember what she had become.

The Emotional Rollercoaster

Prior to the trauma, the couple was happy with life and excited for the future. The accident suddenly and unexpected erases that happiness from her mind. Scene after scene shows that the challenges of recovery are severe and long lasting. One day they are living life according to their terms, and the next day that world is turned upside down.

The resemblance to our own life is clear. There is a coma followed by deficiency and doubt. Living in the present is a different life than anything in the past. There is no guarantee that the future will work out the way it is supposed to. There is little chance that life after trauma will ever mirror the life of the past.

Perhaps this was a bad time to watch this movie. Recently, Jessica had begun putting a lot of thought into our family’s adjustment period. The kids and I lived through the worst of it… several comatose weeks and a complete focus on improving herself. While the kids and I adjusted day by day, Jessica remained in a coma and never had the chance to deal with the initial emotional wreckage. She never had the opportunity to focus on her children. Never had a chance to put her family first. For a long time, all of our lives were built around her damaged brain and its recovery.

If crying is good, then this movie was the best thing we’ve done in a while. Each scene was a mirror of some part of our life. Each action dealt with something that we have also had to deal with during our recovery. Jessica lost a lot the day this happened. She lost the ability to go to work, drive a car, and even stay home by herself. Hard work has helped her regain function, but there are other things she will never be able to do again. The story of this movie is the story of her life.

Our Lives are Made Up of Moments

One of the main themes of this movie is that “Our lives are made up of moments.”

Imagine a cliff notes version of your life that contained a picture (& caption) of each of the major events and decisions. Your entire life summed up in a pamphlet of greatest hits. All of the in between days spent passing the time between these moments… the moments that define who you are.

If you boil it down to its simplest form, that is a pretty accurate depiction of life. It is merely a collection of snapshots of the people, places, and events that have molded your life into what it is today. Once an event occurs that changes everything, it us human nature to evaluate everything else through the lens of this event. It is common sense to define your life using moments.

The Review

The fact is that it is just tough to comment on a movie that seems as if it was written about your own life. Imagine watching a movie about a life-changing even that you were forced to deal with. It’s very hard to be objective about it.

From a brain injury perspective, this movie does cover some of the stressors that come with memory loss and functional deficit. The heroine cannot remember her husband or her current life. Her world is the world of the past. Memory loss is like taking a time machine into the future… everyone else seems to have moved ahead in their lives while you are stuck in standstill. In Jessica’s case, memory loss haunts her every day.

The worst part of her memory loss involves her baby. She now has a beautiful girl at home, but has no memory of the pregnancy or delivery. While forgetting a pregnancy might seem like a brilliant idea to you moms out there, the bond that is developed through morning sickness and baby’s growth is critical. That bond allows mom to generate an intimate comfort level with baby. Having no memory of how those first kicks felt or how great it felt for baby to finally be born is a tragic reality for us. The loss of that experience is a huge downer for a mother searching for that special bond.

Our lives are made of moments, and the secret to success in life is in living all of those moments. Owning all of those moments. Making those moments uniquely ours.

The movie itself was predictable but refreshing. It’s not easy to make a movie about brain injury that is worth watching. It’s a love story with a twist… a ridiculous twist. Highly recommended.

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