- Movie Rating -

Back to the Future (1985)

| July 3, 1985

Back to the Future is one of those movies that has a scenario that has you asking key questions about yourself.  What would you do if you met your parents as teenagers?  How about before they even met each other?  How would you act?  What would you say to them?  What would you do if you accidentally interrupted their first meeting?  Such a scenario is plays for a lot of laughs in this movie but also for a lot of poignancy.  You’re laughing but the movie revels a very clever hand and a lot of heart.

The movie opens in the present with a teenager named Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) who loves but remains distant from his parents.  They’re stuff, nerdy and seem to have lost that lovin’ feeling.  His homelife is dispiriting.  Dad (Crispen Glover) is a nebbish who is obsessed with old television and is also still lives under the tyrannical thumb of his high school bully Biff (Thomas F. Wilson).  His mother is dowdy, overweight and seems to have lost whatever spirit she once had.

The only light in Marty’s life are his music, his girlfriend Jennifer and his friend Dr. Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a wacky scientist that he is constantly warned about.  One night in the empty parking lot of the local shopping mall, the doctor presents his latest invention: an actual time machine that he has made from a DeLorean.  One thing leads to another, and Marty ends up in the time machine and is magically transported back 30 years to 1955 and to a farmer’s field that was there long before the shopping mall.  The farmer comes out, shotgun in tow, and mistakes the car for a downed airplane without wings.

Marty escapes into town, not only confused but still wearing his clothes from 1985.  Soon, he ends up face to face with his own father who is his exact same age.  The complications we can see coming but I was really delighted by the contrasts of the town (fictional Hill Valley) from the dingy and dirty world of 1985 to the cleaner and much more polished world of 1955.  Soon, Marty not only meets his father but also his mother and accidentally comes between their first meeting.  Worse, he discovers that his teenaged mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is more than physically attracted to him.

That incestuous danger hangs over the plot but it never spoils it.  There is a scene toward the end in which she finally comes to a real subconscious realization about Marty that cools her feelings for him.  I won’t say too much more.  This is a movie loaded with surprises and they keep coming right up until the end.

The movie was directed by one of Steven Spielberg’s protégés, Robert Zemekis who is best known for Romancing the Stone.  He is best at placing well-defined characters in the middle of a difficult situation and giving that adventure a lot of fun energy.  Here he adds to the action a sense of Frank Capra-style humanity.  Just like in It’s a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart got to see the other side, so too does Marty see the other side of his parents, young and hopeful and flawed and nervous.  In that way, he is able to change his destiny for the better.  This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.