December 11, 2018

Moments of Impact: an exploration of memory and embodiment in The Vow

Vows are sentimental statements that are spoken with love and kept unbroken. When Leo (Channing Tatum) vows to Paige (Rachel McAdams), on their wedding day, that no matter how far apart they are he will always find a way to get back to her, the audience can expect a truly heart-felt performance as the film will, without a doubt, bring them to tears.

 

Leo and Paige find themselves falling in love and creating a life together in the city. However, an unfortunate car accident leaves Paige with no recollection of Leo. All Paige remembers is her life up until she is at college and engaged to Jeremy (Scott Speedman), which is an unfortunate development for Leo. Leo then has the difficult task of having to let Paige go, to the extent where he even divorces her, so that she is able to find herself once again and make her way back to him. This tragic love story is incredibly touching and raises some philosophical questions about what makes us the people that we are.

 

Throughout the film Leo’s voice is used as a voiceover where he explains his theory on what makes us who we are. He suggests that life is made up of moments of impact and these moments make up our memory and the people we become. Therefore, when Paige loses her memory of these moments of impact she regresses back to who she was until she is able to create new moments of impact which lead her in the same direction, but not necessarily to the same future. This raises questions of embodiment, such as; is Paige still Paige when she loses her memory? Who is she if she is not Paige? Is it our memories that make us the people who we are?

 

Henri Bergson, a famous philosopher, has written a lot about time, space and memory and he suggests that time is, in fact, durée. Durée is considered to be a conscious experience of time as both passing and continuing. It is indivisible and, therefore, has both the pressure of the past pushing onto the present and the vital impulse, élan vital (life/spirit), pulling us toward the open future. Therefore, the present sits between a coextensive virtual past and an open future which means that the past follows us at every instant and we are continually living in a present that is just about to join it. Bergson, therefore, believes that we are continually creating ourselves, where each moment modifies our personality and within each moment we assume this new identity.

 

These moments, in which our personality is modified and we assume a new identity, could be said to be these moments of impact that Leo mentions. For Paige, the moment of impact in the car accident, that gave her a head injury that would cause her to lose her memory, did modify her personality, to the extent in which she assumed an earlier identity of herself. This regression for Paige foregrounds to the audience that the past is always leaning over the present, but also, as Deleuze a well-known philosopher suggests, that you are internal to time as you are surrounded by it. Paige is in the past at the same moment in which she is in the present, she is internal to time. The flashbacks used throughout the film to show how Leo and Paige’s relationship developed portray Bergson’s theory of how the past is forever behind us, coexisting with our present that is just about to join it and pressing against the portals of consciousness. It is due to durée, as a continuing passing, that Paige is able, through new moments of impact, to modify her personality and create herself in much the same way as she did before, however this time with more understanding. Thus, by the end of the film Paige is not the same Paige that she was at the beginning of the film as she has created new memories and a new personality through her new moments of impact. Therefore, the question can be asked; who is she if she does not have the same memories as Paige once did?

 

Bergson believes that the very basis of our conscious existence is our memory, as we pluck out of duration those moments of interest and forget all the rest. Perhaps what the film is demonstrating through Paige’s memory loss is not the fact that her identity changes but perhaps the fact that we as humans are continually creating ourselves with our past pushing onto the present, but that the future that we are continually being pulled towards, is open. Therefore, we can be anything we would like to be, despite our past. Perhaps it is not our memories that necessary define the people that we are, but, instead, it is the choices that we make that determine our future, as Paige makes the same choices despite not having the same memories.

 

The human existence is a delicate one indeed.

 

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