So it is with The Vow, this year's Valentine's Day offering, which secularizes one of the most touching love stories of our time: that of Kim and Kritchkitt Carpenter, who just weeks after marrying suffered a car crash that left Kritchkitt, the bride, comatose and unable to remember her marriage to her husband, Kim.
Unfortunately, The Vow doesn't live up to their example because its screenwriters neglected the very thing that kept them together: their faith. Hollywood couldn't have that.
In the film, Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams) are secular yuppies who live in Chicago. Paige is an artist, Leo an owner of a startup recording studio. Paige is also a graduate of Chicago's Art Institute and a vegetarian. Naturally, she voted for Obama. Their relationship-we don't speak of courtship these days-is very liberal. Leo asks Paige to move in with him and the two have premarital sex. They marry, without either of their families present, in a museum, not a church, with a friend, not a clergyman, officiating. And of course, they also end their marriage in modern ways, too. When Paige can't remember him, Leo reluctantly signs the divorce papers.
In real life, Kim and Kritchkitt Carpenter are devout Christians who live in New Mexico, who never divorced, and who came back to each other through their mutual love of Jesus Christ.
This is how Kritchkitt told it in an interview two weeks ago:
After the accident, life was very confusing for me. ... I did not understand what was happening to me, but I turned to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in order to express the confusion, frustration, and craziness I was dealing with. I was told I was married to Kim so I just accepted it, not realizing I had no memory of it. I had a severe head injury so it takes years to recover. I was a person of my word, so for me I was told I was married [and] that was that, and I tried to regain this life I once lived. I was very devoted to the Lord and held verses close to my heart and trusted Him at His word. Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
So to me ... He will give me the strength to go day by day. In addition, Romans 8:28 says that "All things work together for the good for those who love God and to those who are called according to Christ Jesus." Again, all is all, and I loved the Lord and good would prevail out of this situation. Obviously, at the time I had no idea of how the good would be revealed, but I trusted Him and trusted the Word of God.
To "allow others to see the Lord's amazing work," the Carpenters wrote a book about their experience, which was re-released earlier this month. "Our God is an awesome God and His timing is perfect," Kritchitt said, pointing to the closeness of the movie's release. When you get married, "you have to take those words seriously, that you are making a promise before God," she said to a local TV crew, seated with her husband in front of a cross.
Her husband shares her faith, even telling the local press in New Mexico about his Christianity when he became deputy CEO of San Juan County last year. "I have no hesitation at all putting forward my beliefs and my integrity," Kim said. "We don't have one city leader or county leader in our community that isn't a man of Christ. That [Christian belief] is very important to the values of our citizens."
But to Hollywood? Not so much.
It's also a shame that the film, in addition to its thorough secularization, is both cliché-ridden and too long. It boasts only a 27 percent critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To quote a few reviewers: The Vow is "the kind of featherweight fare that is enjoyed in the moment and forgotten soon after the end credits roll" (Toronto Globe and Mail). "The profoundly mediocre screenplay was factory-farmed and you can feel the various conflicting drafts grinding up against one another" (Metro Times). "[A] painfully humourless affair that I expect to have forgotten by the time this review appears" (Observer, U.K.). The title of USA Today's review sums it up nicely: "You'll swear you've seen this before."
Indeed you have. The Vow's screenwriters, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, have written a number of romances including Valentine's Day (2010), He's Just Not That Into You (2009), and Never Been Kissed (1999). Perhaps the reason so much of Ms. Kohn's work as a romance writer has been so dull is that she grew up listening to her parents -- both are lawyers, and her mother is a divorce mediator in Los Angeles -- talk about their work around the dinner table.
So why the extreme reinvention of the real-life couple? Perhaps it is because Hollywood fears God. For an indication, have a look at an interview with Albert Hughes, one of the producers behind The Book of Eli.
Hughes explains that he and his brother "toned down" the film's Christian message because they were concerned with the bottom line and didn't want to come across as too "preachy" or "righteous."
But is this really true, and is such a perception accurate?
When I was an atheist, I took heart from other people's religious faith, envying the love that religious couples had for each other and their God. I wanted to believe, even though I didn't. Most of my atheist friends -- if you really probed them -- wanted God's love too, though they had a tough time with the concept because, it seemed to me, many of them had a tough time with their place in the world.
Perhaps this confusion comes from the confusion of our secular world.
The word "vow" used to mean more than just something sanctioned by the government. Leo tells Paige that he has a certificate from the state of Illinois to prove they were married, but the real couple relied on a higher authority. We know that Leo and Paige are in love, but how can they be soul mates in a culture that does not recognize a soul?
Can you have one true love if you turn away from His Truth (John 14:6) or even deny such the thing as truth exists?