Monday, October 25, 2010

This Is Heavy!

Blogger's Note: An extended version of this entry appeared in the most recent issue of Restless: An Arts Anthology, published in Mesa, Arizona. If you'd like a copy, drop me a line.

Today, October 25, 2010, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of when Dr. Emmett Brown unveiled his DeLorean time machine to '80s hipster Marty McFly, so I was ecstatic to catch the Back to the Future trilogy on television recently. My favorite trilogy of all time (pun intended), I vividly remember watching the first installment on HBO when I was five or six years old and feeling absolutely jarred by those final frantic moments, as Doc returns from 2015 and whisks Marty and Jennifer away on a new adventure, only to shove a “To Be Continued” in the audience's collective face. I wasn't an avid comic book reader yet, so I hadn't grasped this concept of “to be continued,” but I'm grateful that Doc introduced it to me. Who better to instill an appreciation for looking forward to the future than the guy that invented the Flux Capacitor?

However, watching Back to the Future II as an adult inspired thoughts that hadn't occurred to me previously, specifically about the nature of time travel. To recap, at the beginning of this second film, Doc takes Marty and Jennifer from 1985 to 2015, where their susceptible son takes the fall for a crime committed by the gruesome Griff Tannen, a singular event that spirals the McFly family into irreversible turmoil. Doc hatches a plan to change “future history” and keep the McFly family intact, a noble gesture of selfless friendship that now strikes me as inherently impossible in the context of the rest of the Back to the Future trilogy.

“Well, of course!” you retort. “Throughout the films, Doc is adamant about the dangers of time travel and messing with the natural course of events, lest one cause a rift in the space/time continuum that could destroy the universe!” To this I say, aw, who cares? What's a little chronological paradox between true friends like Doc and Marty?

What I'm saying is, the 2015 that Doc, Marty, and Jennifer visit simply doesn't exist. Never mind that we live in 2010 and are nowhere near self-tying shoes, hoverboards, and flying cars yet. Rather, I insist that once Doc picked up Marty and Jennifer from 1985, he negated the 2015 he initially experienced with Griff and Marty, Jr., because while Marty and Jennifer travel to the future, time still naturally progresses forward but now without them, or else a 2015 wouldn't be there for them to see at all. So, the McFly family shouldn't exist when they arrive in future Hill Valley! The Fox television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles briefly explored this concept in its series finale, when young John Connor landed in the future and discovered a rebellion he didn't lead because he hadn't existed in history forward from the moment he disappeared in that time traveling portal. Ah, pretty heavy, Doc!

In Back to the Future, I'd accept the concept of alternate realities, a domino effect from affecting the natural course of events, but the DeLorean is a time machine, not a Superboy Prime punch. Thus, the oversight must be a thematic one, since screenwriter Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis aren't idiots. See, I love these movies despite their inherent hypocrisies because they present genuinely engaging, realistically flawed characters, and their time-spanning journey is as much one of self discovery as it is chronological repair job. Marty is teenage hubris personified in his inability to resist the challenge of being called “chicken,” and Doc's brilliance makes him so socially awkward, he has to create a time machine to get in touch with his fellow man. (Take that, Mark Zuckerberg!) It's a perfect pairing of imperfection, and by maintaining a McFly-infested 2015 despite Marty's absence from time and consequential inability to make that family, Gale and Zemeckis show us that self-improvement must always possible. It's the most timeless pursuit known to man.

Of course, Doc makes this clear at the end of Back to the Future III, when he shows up at Eastwood Ravine to tell Marty, “The future isn't written yet! The future is what you make it, so make it a good one.” When I was a kid watching these movies for the first time, I had no idea my future would be a better one because of the Back to the Future trilogy . . . not to mention that everyday would be a “to be continued” waiting to happen.

1 comment:

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