Paige suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car accident that results in retrograde amnesia. She awakens in a hospital room having lost several years of her life, and the memory of ever having met Leo and marrying him. Leo attempts to remind Paige of their relationship and reclaim their life prior to the car accident. Although Paige never regains her memory, she discovers facts of her past that lead her back to her life prior to the accident. The movie is based on the actual story of Kim and Krickett Carpenter.
Ashley McIntyre, Lona Wang, Melanie Musso, & Hela Saidi with Mary Spiers
When considering whether The Vow accurately portrays a case of retrograde amnesia, the answer is both yes and no. This movie is based on real-life events, (the story of Krickett Carpenter) so the loss of memory for events prior to a brain injury (i.e. retrograde amnesia), even for a long period of time, can happen. However...
In Paige’s case, she loses all memories of events for approximately five years prior to the accident. She doesn’t remember becoming an artist, meeting or marrying Leo. In trying to piece her life back together after the accident, the last thing she remembers before everything goes blank is ordering toasted ravioli at a restaurant. In The Vow there is a complete cutoff; this is the last thing she remembers. There are no fuzzy “islands of memory” for any time in between that would often be expected in actual TBI. She remembers all events of her life up to a certain point but never regains anything that happened afterwards.
While aspects of the movie are accurate in portraying retrograde amnesia, the main way it is not accurate in portraying a true case of TBI, is the injury’s effect on Paige. The movie downplays the severity of the behavioral effects that traumatic brain injury would have on a person. At first when Paige wakes up after her calamity, she reverts back to how she was five years prior, when she was still in law school and dating someone else (Jeremy). In this story, Paige does learn that she wants to be an artist and eventually leaves Jeremy again and goes back to Leo. In actual TBI, this is less believable. Unlike Paige’s case in this movie, one usually doesn’t regain their former personality. Also, Paige’s coma was slightly mentioned in the movie, but it was portrayed like it only occurred for a few days. Either the movie “skipped to the chase” or it showed that Paige was only in the coma for only a few days. She did not slowly come out of her coma as in real cases of comas; however, she just suddenly “woke up.” After waking up from her coma, Paige remarkably has no bandages or scars considering she just recently went through the windshield of a car.
One thing to be commended about this film is its portrayal of the events and emotional distress that typically coincides with life after a severe TBI for both the patient and his or her family and friends. Some of these very emotional events portrayed in the film were Paige’s accident, her re-acquaintance with her forgotten husband, her return home to her family in order to escape her unfamiliar life with Leo, and Leo’s attempt to make Paige fall in love with him again. While the filmmakers did include a few new details to capture the audiences, all of these instances that occurred in the film did in fact occur in Kim and Krickett’s life. When the actual case was compared to the film, it was found that many of the symptoms and struggles that Paige faced coincided with what the Carpenters wrote in their book, The Vow: The True Events that Inspired the Movie. (2012). Kim Carpenter explains how Krickett and he could not return to the life they had beforehen Krickett returned home from the hospital she was a different person. He explains, “her mood swings were so wide and unpredictable. Unpredictable described our whole relationship” (Carpenter, 2012). Just as in the actual case, one of the main issues in the film was Leo’s difficulty coping with Paige’s constant mood swings, confusion, and struggle with her memory. However, one aspect of the actual case that the film failed to highlight was the difficulty Krickett had getting back to her usual level of functioning. In the book, Kim Carpenter explains that Krickett was required to see a neuropsychologist in order to relearn how to feed, dress, and bathe herself (Carpenter, 2012). According to the actual case, not only did Krickett’s retrograde amnesia cause her to forget eighteen months of her life, but she also suffered from Post-Traumatic Amnesia for four years after the accident (“The Carpenter’s Vow” 2012). Therefore, the film does seem to highlight the main issues that Krickett faced, but failed to capture the severity of Krickett’s (or Paige’s) circumstance.
The Vow is one of the only movies that attempts to show what retrograde amnesia can be like after a head injury. Paige doesn’t totally “lose her identity” as in most popular portrayals of amnesia. She knows her name and remembers her early life and family. However, The Vow still plays with the idea of identity since Paige loses her more recent identity as an artist and follows a quest to refind it. Paige’s personality “recovery” doesn’t totally reflect what happened with Krickett Carpenter. People with traumatic brain injury do not usually “lose” their personality and simply get it back a few years down the road. Unfortunately, most individuals with severe TBI have to live with the effects of their brain injuries for the rest of their lives. The Vow interweaves Hollywood ideas of identity loss and happy endings with actual events that, although rare, can happen with TBI.
Carpenter, K., Carpenter, K., & Dana, W. (2012). The vow: The true events that inspired the
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“The Carpenter’s Vow” (2012). Retrieved from http://thecarpentersvow.com/.
Zillmer, E. A. & Spiers, M. V, & Culbertson, W.C. (2008) Principles of Neuropsychology (2nd ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.