by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter
2012 / 183 pages
This is Exhibit #1 in why you should never judge a book by its movie. If you’ve ever wondered what it meant when a Hollywood film said it was “based on a true story,” if The Vow is any indication, it doesn’t mean much at all.
Both the book and film tell the story of a couple whose marital vows are put to the test after a horrific car accident leaves the wife with no memory of marrying, or even meeting, her husband. The real-life couple is Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, both Christian, which impacts every part of their story
They met each other when Kim, a baseball coach, purchased some team uniforms from the company where Krickitt worked. Krickitt always loved her family, which is why Kim went to her father to ask for permission to marry his daughter. They saved sex until after they were married and had a big traditional church wedding with family and friends. They said their vows before God and his people. After the accident, Krickitt briefly stayed with her parents, but the couple never considered divorce, and three years later they had a second wedding ceremony and renewed their vows.
In the film the couple have been renamed, with Leo owning a recording studio and Paige a vegetarian artist who hates her family and hasn’t spoken to them in years. So, of course, Leo doesn’t ask Paige’s dad for permission to marry his daughter because Leo doesn’t even meet his father-in-law-to-be until after the accident. The couple lives together before marriage and has sex long before marriage. Their marriage ceremony is an impromptu one that takes place in an art museum, it includes lots of giggling, warm and fuzzy promises, and is interrupted by museum security guards. After the accident the couple eventually divorces, only to later get married once again.
So why such a departure from the real events? It turns out the film’s two primary scriptwriters, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, never met the Carpenters, and never even read their book. Kohn noted:
[The studio] gave a couple of lines about the true story and allowed us to go invent a movie that we liked…. I think if they told us too much we’d feel responsible to those details. But we felt responsible to nothing.
The irony is, while the scriptwriters decided to depart from the real story in order to make it more interesting, the end result was a movie that didn’t feel authentic. The vows Leo and Paige made were frivolous, done seemingly as a lark, and the sort that couples facing far easier trials break every day. In this secular setting why would Paige feel any reason to keep promises to a man who, after that accident, she doesn’t even know?
The true story teaches the meaning of faithfulness, both in how Kim refuses to turn his back on Krickett no matter how much she has changed, and even more remarkably in how Krickett decided to keep promises she didn’t remember making, to a husband she didn’t know, because she knew she had also made those promises to God. Now that’s a story. But it’s clearly one that Hollywood could never do justice to.
At 183 pages the Carpenters’ book is a quick, fun read. It may not be great literature, but the story itself is extraordinary… and so much better than the “inspired by true events” Hollywood version.
A version of this originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue.