Back to the Past for ‘Back to the Future’

by Susan Roberts

The movie trilogy of Back to the Future was in the news last month because we reached the 21st October 2015. In the second movie, this is the day to which the 1985 characters travel forward in time.


There’s been a lot of speculation lately about which gadgets from this second film have actually become reality. Hover boards and flying cars remain a dream, but self-lacing shoes seem to be heading towards reality. Nike recently sent Michael J Fox the first pair of self-lacing sneakers which they are hoping to put into production.

Strangely, no one dreamed up mobile phones – which is just as well since that could have seriously ruined some major plot points. Who was to know back in 1985 that the youth of 2015 would all have their noses glued to tiny screens and be suffering from repetitive strain injury in their thumbs?

Co-writer Bob Gale explains that since no one can predict the future, a time travel movie of this type has to create its own parameters, so the writers invented a small town with its own local history and quirky deadlines for the time travellers.

It’s a great premise and carried out exceptionally well, with wonderful performances by Michael J Fox as teenager Marty and Christopher Lloyd as Doc, the mad scientist who builds a time machine out of a De Lorean car.

In the first movie, Marty McFly takes a ride back in time by accident to 1955. There he makes an innocent mistake which not only prevents his parents from falling in love, but puts him embarrassingly in his father’s rightful place. He finds himself fending off his young mother who starts falling in love with him instead of with his father.

As if that’s not bad enough, Marty only has a few days to fix what’s he’s messed up if he’s to take advantage of the only natural phenomenon that he knows about which will give him enough power to fly the time machine back to 1985. While taking care of all this business, he manages to teach the school bully a lesson or two as well.

In the second film Doc takes Marty and his girlfriend 30 years into the future, to 2015, to prevent one of their future children from making a bad decision. Once there they inadvertently allow the now 78-year old former school bully to mess with their own past, which means that Marty and Doc have to return to 1955 (the scene of the first movie), and surreptitiously re-enter the original adventure to right more wrongs and sort out the bully’s younger self, thereby adding another layer onto earlier events while trying to not disturb that re-jiggled history they just fixed in the first movie.

Complicated? Very. But enormous fun, especially if you have just re-watched the first movie and its events are still fresh in your mind.

The third movie goes back in time 100 years to the Wild West of 1885 and pokes gentle fun at the western genre while paying homage to Clint Eastwood and others. It also re-visits some of the themes which made the first two movies so memorable, and Marty meets the evil ancestor of – you guessed it – the school bully. Along the way, Marty not only learns to rein in his own impulsive reactions whenever he is called “chicken” by the bully, but imparts some sound advice to an early ancestor of the McFly clan about doing the same.

All three films are well worth seeing, whether or not you’ve watched them before. True to form, the school bullies in all three eras don’t seem to learn anything from their mistakes, but that’s the way with movies – every character has an arc, except the bad guys.

What becomes clear is that all three of these movies are less about time travel and more about family and friendship. About what brings us together and what keeps us together. About what is inherent in us and what we learn from the circumstances life throws at us.

The spark that led to the original story happened when the writers hit on the notion of how much fun it would be for a teenager to go back in time and see his own parents when they were his age. I’ve long had a theory that we are all nostalgic about the age in which our parents were young, because we hear them talking about the “old days” with such love and enthusiasm. At the time when the first Back to the Future movie came out, my father had just died and amongst everything else that was going on in our family in coping with his loss, this film was a reinforcement of all the stories he used to tell us about the “old days” of his youth.


Time travel has always been a popular fiction theme, from writers such as H G Wells and Mark Twain to Audrey Niffenegger, on television in the form of Voyagers and Doctor Who, and with movies like: Kate & Leopold, Just Visiting, and this trilogy.

If you had the opportunity to jump into Doc’s De Lorean, what date would you punch into the time console? Like Marty I’d go back to the 1950s, to see what my parents got up to in their twenties. Where would you go?


9 thoughts on “Back to the Past for ‘Back to the Future’

  1. jac says:

    Susan this is a delightful read – I admire your analytical spirit! Difficult to choose a time really, childhood memories are so carefree aren’t they? and the days of watching the Saturday morning cowboy movie…and the Hollywood musicals. Our 9 yr old grandson is a Lego boff and creates the most hair-raising scenarios complete with sound effects in his room. I make what I hope are appreciative and knowledgeable responses and sneak back to my book corner!

  2. Brigitta says:

    I have been watching a bit of Back to the Future and liked it, especially the mad prof. I would like to go back to the Fifties. I thoroughly liked your piece, one of the best!

  3. Gareth Nash says:

    Dear Sue
    Thank you for the commentary; as always, a pleasure to read.
    Your question did raise a few points for me, though. Surely, if people were able to time travel, this would put many an author out of work. Part of the pleasure of reading is to see someone’es interpretation of the past through people and places. And the same could be said of the future. With time travel, why read when you can visit and see it first-hand?

    • Susan says:

      Imagine how messed up the space-time continuum would become if everyone could travel back and forth in time – what a mess things might be! No doubt the prices for a seat in a time machine would be so expensive that few would be able to afford it, and when weighed against the price of a movie ticket, a book (or a free library membership) most wouldn’t be able to make a habit of it. As for putting authors out of work? Not really an issue since most authors have to have a day job anyway. Create more readers, Gareth, in that course you teach!

  4. jac dowling says:

    On a less esoteric note – Blackadder and Baldrick built a time machine once upon a time…it was an interesting episode!

    • Susan says:

      Ah, how did I miss that one? I’ll have to look for it. I love those two and the antics they get up to.

      • jac dowling says:

        It’s well worth a search and I think it came from one of the later series, before ‘In The Trenches’ – and there was no stuffed chicken involved!

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