If you are the type who tended to over-analyze things back in the eighties, there may have been a moment during “Back to the Future,” when you stopped and realized that the title doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – at least at first glance. You can’t go back to the future, any more than you can go forward to the past. But it does make sense, when you realize that the main character, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) time travels thirty years back to his parents’ high school years, in order to alter the future. So it’s actually kind of clever.
Michael’s character, like Ferris Bueller, is an intriguing mix of cool and uncool traits. He doesn’t have a car, but he can really rock riding a skateboard, especially since he gets his own soundtrack (cool), though it’s Huey Lewis and the News (not so cool). He doesn’t seem to have any friends his age, but he is in a band, although it’s not even good enough to be allowed to play at a school function. He spends time apparently of his own free will hanging out with a much older mad scientist/inventor (Christopher Lloyd), but he also has a beautiful girlfriend (Claudia Wells), who wants to spend some quality time alone with him for the upcoming weekend. But Michael is also cursed with perhaps the dorkiest cinematic family in existence, featuring a father (Crispin Glover) who lets himself be pushed around by high school nemesis Biff (Thomas Wilson); a mom, (Lea Thompson) who thinks his girlfriend is far too forward; and a brother and sister, who are also losers. So as the movie opens, it doesn’t look like he’s going to get to spend that quality time with Claudia, perhaps ever. Unless Claudia decides to wear a chastity belt.
Fortunately, Christopher gets in hot water with some Libyan terrorists (because, eighties), which somehow translates into Michael getting into a magical DeLorean and being transported back to the fifties, where he winds up interfering with his parents’ history, meaning that Lea falls for him, instead of Crispin. Michael can tell things are off because a photo he has of his family is slowly fading, but luckily Younger Christopher is also there and can give him advice. Michael comes up with a plan involving getting a little “fast” with his mom in the school parking lot the night of the big dance, which will pave the way for Crispin to come to her rescue. Trouble is, Young Thomas is out for revenge, having been humiliated by Michael not once, but several times since his arrival in town.
Things do not go as planned, but there’s a happy ending anyway. Lea and Crispin get together, and when Michael wakes up in 1985 again, things have completely changed, and everything and everyone he’s related to have become cool. In fact, he even gets a new car, and permission to hook up with Claudia anytime he wants with Mom’s blessing.
Now, this looks great for Michael, but if you decide to step back and analyze what his present is going to be like from now on, it’s a little worrisome. So here, I’d like to interject three questions that have always bothered me about this movie.
1) Michael is the only one who has an entirely different memory of the past than his two siblings and parents. How lonely is that going to be after he stops time travelling and settles back down into his “old” life?
2) Won’t the McFlys eventually figure out that something is seriously off with Michael that goes far beyond the fact that one time he got so tired he conked out still wearing his daywear? Will they feel it necessary to get him psychological help? If my kid suddenly had an alternate memory than everyone else’s in the family, I’d start thinking along the lines of him having been brainwashed.
3) How warped is Michael’s relationship with Lea going to be, now that he’s been hit on by the teenage version of her? Won’t that make any future gestures of casual physical affection a trifle awkward?
Anyway, the movie ends on a note that screams “sequel,” because no sooner has Michael reunited with Claudia then Christopher appears disheveled and frantic for them to get back in the car and this time, really go to the future. “Thanks, but no thanks,” would be a reasonable response, given what Michael has just gone through, but then of course, there wouldn’t be a sequel. Or two.