"If They Can't Dance, They Can't Kiss..."

Revising the 1950's to Suit the 1980's in Back to the Future

by Edgar Governo

Originally written for "Horrible Families and Family Horrors," a Film Studies Special Topic course taught by Professor George Toles of the University of Manitoba.

N.B. Although this essay quotes extensively from material that is © Universal Pictures, said references constitute "fair use" for the purposes of academic research and criticism. The essay itself remains the intellectual property of the author, and any use of or quotation from it is subject to the specific consent of the author. If you wish to use any portion(s) of this essay elsewhere, or to inform me of an existing academic citation, please let me know by writing me at arphaxad@mts.net.

Each era of the 20th century in North America has had its own image of what constitutes a "successful" family, adopting assumptions about societal norms that are reflected in depictions of the family in various media. With the advent of television in the 1950's, that image became a self-conscious one, as the families depicted in television series and commercial advertising rested on what American culture thought family should be like--the hard-working father supporting the happy housewife and children, all living together in harmony. This became the template for the image of the successful family in later decades, with each successive image being a variation on that theme. By the 1980's, the focus had shifted to allow for dual-income households, as the definition of success (familial or otherwise) now placed great emphasis on material gains--this was, after all, the decade in which Wall Street, a movie featuring a real-life father and son, coined the phrase, "Greed is good. Greed works."

Back to the Future uses time travel as a device to subvert the popular conventions of both the 1950's family and the 1980's family; the film's main character, Marty McFly, literally reinvents his family by altering its roots. The Reagan-era concerns that America had not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the previous generation are also literalised here--Marty, the product of children who come of age in the 1950's, exists as an example of the end result of that generation's dreams for the future, and he spends the film working to restore and return to that future. Marty's journey to the past allows him to subtly alter the prototypical 1950's family that he finds in his (generically named) hometown of Hill Valley in order to create an immediate family for himself that is closer to the ideals of the 1980's.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Marty McFly, not in his own home, but as he arrives at the home of Doc Brown, a local scientist who serves as both friend and father figure to him. Doc has no actual family of his own, but his home is a parody of many family conventions--before any characters have appeared onscreen, we have already seen a number of machines, presumably Doc's inventions, that are designed to perform common household tasks such as preparing breakfast and feeding the dog. The machines have been left on in his absence, so they continue their assigned chores even after the dog bowl is overflowing and the toast has long since burnt in the toaster. In a mechanised age, the daily rituals are blindly performed by literal automatons which, by definition, are incapable of understanding their meaning.

Marty, at first, seems to fit into the role of a "typical" teenager in 1985--he's an aspiring musician with an attractive girlfriend, but he often gets into trouble, arriving late to school and being caught by the principal, who has been there since the time that Marty's father was a high school student. The principal is quick to shoot down Marty's musical ambitions by describing him as a "slacker" and comparing him to his father, stating that, "No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley," at which point the film self-consciously gives away its intentions by having Marty reply, "Well, history is going to change."

When we are introduced to Marty's family, we discover that they are hardly the image of a successful 1980's household--on the contrary, they are immediately established as dysfunctional and stagnant. George McFly, Marty's father, is the main example of the lack of real progress represented in the family--he has thick-rimmed glasses and oily hair, giving the appearance of a sitcom father from the 1950's; he lets himself be pushed around by Biff, his work supervisor whom we later discover was also his high-school bully; and at dinner, he spends his time watching The Honeymooners. It is as if, despite his marriage and family life, nothing has changed for him since 1955.

George's wife and Marty's mother, Lorraine, is an overweight housewife who drinks vodka at the dinner table and wanly retells the story of how she and George met over the complaints of their daughter, Linda, that they have heard this a great many times before. Lorraine tells the story in order to dissuade Linda from pursuing a romantic interest; she, too, seems to want things to be as they were in the past, assuring Linda that true love will happen "like the way I met your father," but although she intends her story to recall images of teenage romance--and as exposition, it tells the audience what the "proper" version of history is--Lorraine's delivery suggests only disappointment. When she ends the story by saying, "...I realised that I was going to spend the rest of my life with [George]," the only emotion that comes across is one of defeat and resignation.

It is also at this point that we see what, in retrospect, are attempts on the part of the family to revise the story of their past--through lying (or selective memory) rather than time travel. Lorraine tells Linda, "When I was your age, I never chased a boy or called a boy or sat in a parked car with a boy," but later in the film, we will see that the Lorraine of 1955 does, in fact, do all of these things.

Other than Marty, the other two McFly children are almost ciphers, but they are certainly not conveyed with any sense of hope for the future--Linda is shown with rollers in her hair as she eats, and Dave, Marty's older brother, appears dressed to work at some fast-food establishment, pausing only long enough to laugh along with his father at the old sitcom that is on television.

All of this introduction, as well as previous scenes showing the centre of Hill Valley in 1985 to be a rundown area dominated by places like an aerobics centre and an X-rated theatre, serve to show an image of the 1980's that is rife with disillusionment compared to the bright optimism of the 1950's that is shown later. It is no wonder that Marty's trip back in time begins in the parking lot of a shopping mall, the ultimate symbol of 1980's commercialism. (The casting of Michael J. Fox as Marty is also significant, since this role was concurrent with his portrayal of Alex Keaton in the sitcom Family Ties; the title itself suggests a harmonious 1980's family, and the character of Alex would certainly qualify as an idealised image of a successful young man of the Reagan-era mold.)

Once Marty arrives in 1955, he finds himself immediately at odds with the era--the film rests on the character-based humour that arises from this, but it is significant for what it says about Marty's ability (or lack thereof) to conform to the template of small-town Americana that is being set out before him. Marty is able to adapt only because of a kind of inadvertent revisionism--he does not intend to change things, but he affects the world around him, and his family in particular, just by being who he is. To emphasise this, the film offers a great number of images and events that serve to highlight both the differences between the Marty's 1985 outlook and the 1955 attitudes of his parents, as well as the underlying cultural similarities that bind the two generations together.

Almost immediately after arriving in 1955, Marty comes to a halt upon seeing the gates that will one day form the entrance to his neighbourhood, Lyon Estates, and this reminder of home and family makes him more fully aware of the reality of his situation. Marty hides the time-travelling DeLorean behind the billboard advertising the new neighbourhood, which tellingly urges consumers to, "Live in the home of tomorrow...today!" The image on the billboard is of the classic, harmonious 1950's family as they look away to the shiny home of the future that stands before them, serving as a stark contrast to the McFly family of 1985, the only household we have seen living in such a "home of tomorrow."

Despite this reminder of reality, Marty's first reaction is to try and dismiss what is happening, convincing himself that his trip through time is just a dream--almost as if the post-war idealism of the 1950's could not exist otherwise. He tells himself it has to be a dream as he drives along before seeing the gates; he says the same thing to himself when he sees the date on the front page of the town's newspaper; and later, when he wakes up in his mother's 1955 home, he begins to describe his "nightmare" before she tells him he is "safe and sound now, back in good old 1955." (Though the younger Lorraine lives in that time, she still uses the language of nostalgia to describe it, making the present synonymous with the "good old days" which the 1980's looked back on.) The film even supports this mixture of nostalgia and disbelief through its choice of music--as Marty arrives in downtown Hill Valley, the soundtrack plays the 1950's song "Mister Sandman, Bring Me A Dream," reflecting a desire for idealistic dreams as opposed to waking reality.

Having hid the car and headed into the smaller Hill Valley of 1955, Marty starts searching out Doc's past self and encounters his future father, as a teenager, for the first time. Bewildered and confused, he follows George through town until he finds George's bike leaning up against a tree, and to Marty's amazement, it turns out that George is a peeping tom, spying on Lorraine with a pair of binoculars. Again, this image is a disillusioning one, but it is not in contrast to the viewer's knowledge of reality in 1985, in which the X-rated theatre in downtown Hill Valley--advertising a nonexistent movie called Orgy, American Style, quite a literal perversion of the title of the 1960's comedy series Love, American Style--legitimises and commercialises the act of the peeping tom. Rather, it subverts the traditional 1950's image of the well-behaved male teenager--not only does George let himself get pushed around by Biff, but his sexuality is kept secret from others around him, introducing us to the idea that George, fundamentally, has as much of a problem fitting into 1955 as Marty does. Ironically, however, it is crucial to Marty's very existence that George be a peeping tom, because his spying on Lorraine sets events in motion that will eventually lead to their getting together. In that respect, George needs to not fit into his era.

It is at this point that Marty's first act of intervention occurs, but he does not set out to alter history--he reflexively pushes his father out of the path of the truck driven by Lorraine's father, the truck that had been destined to hit George. In a sense, Marty symbolically replaces his father by doing this, as if to say that if his father cannot fulfill the role that history has in mind for him, Marty will take his place, becoming the object of Lorraine's affections.

Marty's encounter with Lorraine's family is central to the idea of his altering the family of the 1950's for the sake of the 1980's, as various elements of her family in 1955 serve as reflections of the McFly household that the viewer had already been introduced to in 1985. (Being a Spielberg-produced film, this shows a connection between the male lead and his mother's family before he is able to make a similar connection with his father, whose extended family is never seen at all.) Lorraine's father, like George, plays to stereotypes of the 1950's--not only does his demeanour suggest that of Jackie Gleason, but when he finds Marty knocked out in front of his truck, he yells out to his wife, "Stella!", recalling Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Marty awakes to the sound of his mother's voice, only to find out that his "dream" is all too real, and that his mother is, in fact, the same age as he is in 1955. Lorraine looks like the "girl next door" figure of the era--she even keeps a hope chest and has pictures of teen heartthrobs up beside her bedroom mirror--but she, like George, subverts that traditional image, as we discover that she removed Marty's pants while he was unconscious, and almost immediately comes on to him once he does wake up.

Lorraine's mother is, quite literally, barefoot and pregnant, as the family is shown to have five children with another on the way--the Baby Boom in full force. There is a notable age gap between Lorraine and her younger siblings, no doubt from the expected absence of her father during World War II, which provides an important distinction from Marty and his siblings in 1985, who appear to be quite close in age. In all respects, the Baines family seems to fit the happy 1950's ideal--Lorraine's younger brother even wears a Davy Crockett cap. Again, however, the image is subverted in subtle ways, as when Marty finally meets his uncle, "Jailbird" Joey, as an infant who cries whenever he is taken out of his playpen; Marty tells Joey to "get used to these bars" since he, and the audience, know that Joey is destined to end up in prison.

As with Marty's 1985 family, the Baines family of 1955 is gathered together to have dinner in front of the television, reinforcing the idea that conventional images of the family are centred around television, especially since Lorraine's Jackie Gleason-like father is thrilled to be able to watch The Honeymooners while they eat. For Lorraine's family, the ability to finally do this is a source of pride, while Marty absentmindedly tells her that his family has two televisions. To the family of 1955, this is amazing--Lorraine's brother says that Marty "must be rich," while her mother dismisses his claims as preposterous ("Nobody has two television sets."). Despite this disparity, the two families are, in fact, engaged in the same activity, to the point where the specific episode of the sitcom being watched by both families is the same. Marty's appreciation of that episode as "a classic" reflects the nostalgia with which the America of the 1980's viewed the 1950's, as well as the inability of the 1980's to create its own vision of the future; as Marty explains, "this is the [episode] where Ralph dresses up as a man from space," but he knows this in spite of being from the generation after its first airing--and a generation in which men actually do go into space--because of the fascination of that latter generation for the culture of the past.

Marty's perspective on the past makes him incompatible with it, as the Baines family is shown to be of an age before the disillusionment that would produce a generation of teenagers like Marty McFly. (Lorraine's father, like the rest of the family, is oblivious to the adversity to come, asking blithely, "Who the hell is John F. Kennedy?") As a result, he resumes his search for Doc Brown, the father figure who transcends the two generations, both literally (through his invention of time travel) and figuratively (in his consistency of appearance and personality in both eras). Not surprisingly, the 1955 family cannot understand his behaviour, or conceive of the idea that someone like Marty could be the product of their future. Lorraine's father actively discourages the notion:

He's an idiot. Comes from upbringing. Parents are probably idiots, too.
Lorraine, you ever have a kid who acts that way, I'll disown you.

These comments denote behaviour as a product of family life, and represent the refusal of Lorraine's prototypically 1950's family to accept a future reality that diverges from their idealistic expectations.

Marty is successful in finding a younger Doc Brown at his home in 1955, and while Doc initially does not believe Marty's claims, he is later the one responsible for making Marty aware of his accidental intervention in his parents' first meeting. It is important to note that Marty and Doc become aware of the changes to the timeline through a picture of Marty and his two siblings, a physical reminder of the 1980's life that is in danger if Marty is unsuccessful in restoring his parents to the "proper" image of a 1950's teenage courtship. In a very real and literal sense, the image of the 1980's cannot exist if the image of the 1950's is not repaired.

Doc is out of tune with most of the common societal assumptions in both time periods, becoming a timeless figure that is not tied to the expectations or conventions of any particular era. He has no surviving family to give him roots, and as he explains in 1985, "it took thirty years and [his] entire family fortune" to create the time machine in the first place--he has deliberately given up those roots for the ability to escape the constraints of time. However, he shares the hopes for the future that were common in the period immediately after World War II, and this hope continues through 1985, as he wants to "look beyond [his] ears" into the future by use of the time machine, believing in his heart that the future will be a bright one. When the Doc Brown of 1955 assumes that plutonium can be bought in stores in the future while expressing incredulity at the realities of 1985, such as Marty's claim that Ronald Reagan is President of the United States ("Ronald Reagan? The actor?"), Marty does not venture to correct his assumptions--as if the worst possible sin he could commit would not be to literally alter the future, but to destroy the optimism with which the people of 1955 view it.

Marty's efforts to preserve the events that will lead to his own birth are hindered by the fact that George does not fit into the 1950's mold, so to speak. When Marty and Doc go to Hill Valley High School together, even Doc is at a loss to explain how Lorraine could become attracted to George; like Lorraine's father, he cannot believe that someone like Marty could be the future product of this 1955 teenager, offering Marty the possibility of a less direct form of familial connection: "Maybe you were adopted." Marty must press on, however, to prevent a temporal paradox, despite the fact that on the face of it, his parents do not meet the standards of a "traditional" 1950's teenage couple represented in the media.

The most crucial task that Marty must fulfill in order to get history back on its proper track is to get his parents to go on their first date--a school dance, the archetypal setting for teenage romantic interaction, so much so that Doc describes it as a "rhythmic ceremonial ritual." The dance is expressly linked to the notion of acceptance within the microcosm of the high school, as the poster for it proclaims, "Be There Or Be Square!" Such advertising explicitly lets all of the students who see it know that if they do not attend the dance, they will clearly not meet societal expectations--they will be the square peg in the round hole of the teenage community.

Such warnings are not enough to get George to go to the dance as Marty suggests--he "can't" go, he claims, because he does not want to miss Science Fiction Theatre, a television anthology program of the 1950's. Like Doc, George is symbolically ahead of his time in his desire to write and read science-fiction stories; this is how he expresses the idealism and hopes for the future that are common to all the 1950's characters, but it is also what sets him apart from the other characters his age, who prefer to engage in activities that are within the parameters of convention. As someone familiar with the many examples of popular science-fiction that have been propagated by the 1980's, Marty is able to work within George's mindset, and use it to his advantage, by fooling George into thinking that he has been visited by an alien: "Darth Vader, an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan!" As Jackie Gleason's Ralph does in the episode of The Honeymooners that the two families watch, Marty dresses up as a man from space in order to accomplish his goal; he has used knowledge and artifacts from both the real and the imagined futures, taking his cue from the expectations he encounters in George and the culture of the 1950's at large.

The ruse succeeds in convincing George that he should go to the dance, but the reality is still that George does not fit the image of a 1950's teenager, so Marty adopts the Cyrano de Bergerac role to coach him on how to ask Lorraine out--with limited success. George is not in touch with the gestalt of his peers because he is intimidated and fears rejection for his creativity and viewpoint, so he does not know how to be the prototypical teenager that Marty needs him to be, and he fumbles when Marty offers him advice on what to say to Lorraine. Although, as an aspiring writer, he is eager to take down this "good stuff," he is unable to offer the delivery needed; he enters the café where Lorraine and her friends are hanging out and orders a chocolate milk from the counter with an air of bravado--another Norman Rockwell image come to life. Despite his attempts to fit that image, however, his efforts still fail, and even while reading from his notepad, the best that George can offer as a pick-up line to Lorraine is, "My density has popped me to you."

Ironically, Marty is more capable of coping with the obstacles of the 1950's than George is--when Biff tries to kick George out of the café, it is Marty who stands up to him and leads his gang on a chase which Marty "wins" through his knowledge of the future, hastily converting a child's wooden scooter of the 1950's into a makeshift skateboard, akin to the one Marty owns in the 1980's. It is because of this confidence that Lorraine becomes ever the more attracted to him, which only further impedes his own efforts to restore history by getting her and George together. She even follows Marty to Doc's home to see if he will ask her to the dance, and Marty tries to deal with this by suggesting that she go with George instead. Lorraine's response demonstrates that her attraction to Marty stems from his having features that are common to the 1950's ideal, as opposed to George:

[George]'s kinda cute and all, but not...well, I think a man should be strong,
so he can stand up for himself, and protect the woman he loves. Don't you?

Her description belies a number of things--that she believes Marty meets the description, that she believes George does not, and that she would be surprised if Marty did not hold the same sorts of expectations she does. More than any other comment a character makes in the film, Lorraine's statement lets Marty (and the audience) know that, in order to restore the image/reality of the 1980's, Marty will have to reinvent how his parents met in order to fit the expectations of the 1950's.

To this end, Marty sets out to contrive a situation in the heroic mold--he will pretend to accost Lorraine so George can arrive, seemingly in the nick of time, and win in a physical fight with Marty in front of Lorraine's eyes. Marty even uses the phraseology of a fairy tale romance by telling George that this will allow him and Lorraine to "live happily ever after." As the date of the actual dance arrives, however, events will contrive to force George to fit into the 1950's mold in practice, and not just in appearance. In doing so, the film is telling us that the ideal family cannot be created simply by "faking it;" George must learn to live the image of the prototypical 1950's teenager in order to become the ideal image of the father in the 1980's.

Numerous incidents at the dance show the transformation of the 1950's image to a more ideal one through the actions, purposeful and inadvertent, of various characters, particularly Marty. He arrives at the dance with Lorraine and asks if they can "park" for a while, which Lorraine readily agrees to, adding, "It's not like I've never parked before," further disproving the claims about her youth that the older Lorraine makes earlier in the film. Marty is surprised by this and by the fact that his future mother both drinks and smokes at this age, and he works to change that, but more because it bothers him than out of any effort to change the future. Lorraine's response to that is to tell Marty not to be "such a square"--although the traditional image of the teenager in the 1950's is one that is clean-cut and sober, Lorraine's attitude subverts that image again by indicating that real teenage expectations of the era include activities that do not meet with this image.

Marty's actions while "parking" with Lorraine show his discomfort at having to assume this traditional role with his own mother as well as her ultimate discomfort around him. Despite her advances, the sexual crossing of generation lines in the film is still anathema--Lorraine tells Marty that he is "beginning to sound just like [her] mother," and she has an almost mystical understanding of the incestuousness of kissing Marty, saying that "it's like [she]'s kissing [her] brother."

Another crucial act at this point is also inadvertent on Marty's part--Biff finds Marty to exact his revenge for the damage to his car from the earlier chase, and his gang locks him in the car trunk of the band that is playing at the dance. Biff essentially takes Marty's place in the car, attempting to actually accost Lorraine, and because of this, George's arrival on the scene is not a ruse. What Marty reassured him before was "just an act" becomes a true feat of bravery--George becomes the heroic love interest by not walking away from the confrontation and punching Biff out. He takes Lorraine in his arms and returns to the dance as a triumphant swell of romantic music plays on the soundtrack.

Even this victory on George's part is not enough--the dance's bandleader has cut his hand opening the trunk to let Marty out, and Marty is told that the band cannot continue without him, as they need him to play the guitar. Marty realises that the dance is a part of the romantic formula of sorts required for history to play out properly--in effect, the story is not complete without its romantic climax, the crucial kiss between George and Lorraine. The image of the 1950's teenage romance has not been properly restored or created, and Marty even explains this in a panic to the bandleader:

Marvin, you gotta play...see, that's where they kiss for the first time on the
dance floor, and if there's no music, they can't dance, and if they can't dance,
they can't kiss. If they can't kiss, they can't fall in love, and I'm history.

This statement would seem to defy logic--of course, George and Lorraine could kiss without having to do so at the dance, and that kiss in itself would not be necessary for George and Lorraine to fall in love and for Marty's 1980's family to come into being. Nevertheless, the metaphysics of the movie require that the image be complete, or the future that will grow from that image is doomed.

Marty's solution is to again fill in the role necessary to complete the image--he can play the guitar, so he does so in Marvin the bandleader's stead (their names are even similar) as Marvin sings "Earth Angel"--another song from the era that represents the idealisation of romance. Time is running short, and Marty is on the verge of fading from history altogether, as George is still too nervous to kiss Lorraine, and another teenager cuts in on his dance with her. Marty collapses onstage, unable to play the guitar, just as George seems to be walking away from another confrontation. Just in the nick of time, however, he does confront the other teenager, and the long-awaited kiss finally occurs. As in classic film romances, the kiss is the culmination of the budding romance between the two characters, and it has a metaphysical power all its own; once George kisses Lorraine (his "earth angel"), Marty's history is magically restored--symbolised by the literal image of the photograph Marty has with him--and he is able to finish playing along with the rest of the band.

For being able to restore the image of the 1980's, Marty repays the 1950's, so to speak, by giving the high school dance "something that really cooks"--his rendition of the song "Johnny B. Goode," which had not yet been written but which he describes as "an oldie where [he] come[s] from." Conveniently, the bandleader is a relative of Chuck Berry, thus making Marty inadvertently responsible for helping to create another product of the 1950's, rock and roll, even though the poodle-skirted teenage crowd of the 1950's is unprepared for Marty's 1980's take on the song, which ends in a raucous guitar solo. Marty never fits in completely, and the generation gap remains, as Marty makes clear: "...you guys aren't ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it."

In the course of the song, we see that George has a newfound confidence and that he has now gained the approval and acceptance of his peers; while dancing with Lorraine, he is told by classmates that he did a "nice job handling Biff out there" as well as being invited to run for Class President, an example of the classic image of teen leadership. George has gone from not fitting into the mold of his era to being told that he should be the template for others. As such, he and Lorraine have completed their transition to a couple that more successfully fits into the ideal image of the 1950's family-to-be, and Marty is able to leave them to their destiny.

Upon his return to the future, Marty discovers that his "tweaking" of the 1950's has resulted in fulfilling a fantasy of someone living in a dysfunctional family--he and his life remain mostly unchanged, but the family life around him has been altered for the better. Marty begins by again dismissing the events that have transpired thus far as a dream, but, as before, he discovers that the changes in his household are quite real.

Thanks to Marty's actions in the past, which have made his parents into an ideal for that time, the McFly family of 1985 now fits the prototypical and idealised image of the 1980's--successful and active, a far cry from the disillusioned age we were exposed to at the beginning of the film. Marty is initially surprised at how the furniture in the house is nicer than it was before; by the standards of the commercial 1980's, success is measured by material wealth, and the image of the living room is reality. Marty's older brother, Dave, now works in an unspecified office job--a generic symbol of 1980's success--while his sister, Linda, has another vague job and is so popular, Dave complains that he "can't keep track of all of [her] boyfriends" and should not because he is "not [her] answering service," reflecting a similar comment made by Linda to Marty at the beginning of the film.

It is then that Marty's parents enter the house, and Marty receives the biggest shock of all--George and Lorraine have become tennis-playing yuppies in a happy marriage. Lorraine is playful with her husband, looking younger and thinner than she had in the previous version of the 1985 family. (Interestingly enough, she is not described as having any job, so she might as well be an idealised 1980's housewife.) George, the main example of stagnation before, is now having his first novel published, a science-fiction book called A Match Made In Space. (The cover shows a scene similar to Marty's disguise as an alien to convince George to ask Lorraine out--another confirmation of the direct consequences of Marty's action on the present.) The times have "caught up" with George, and the interest in science-fiction that set him apart before is now an element of his success. To show that George can now be the father figure to Marty that he could not be before, he repeats to Marty the slogan that Doc had told him before and which Marty, in turn, told the George of 1955: "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." Biff, who had previously continued his bullying habits on George into adulthood, has now become George's lackey, bringing his deliveries into the house and waxing his car.

Marty, the instigator of change, is allowed to keep his life in much the same way he had it before, with a few improvements--notably the fact that he now owns a truck which he coveted at the beginning of the film. (Again, success in meeting the ideal of the 1980's is measured by a material item.) He even has the same attractive girlfriend, Jennifer, that he had before, but his "improved" parents approve of her in a way that his prudish "original" parents did not.

Although Marty has been able to revise the past for the purposes of improving his own present, the end of the film only shows that this cycle of family history will inevitably continue. Doc arrives suddenly in the time machine, urgently telling Marty that they need to go "back to the future!" (The use of the title of the film in dialogue is a major indication of the thematic importance of this statement.) Marty and Jennifer are both urged to travel with Doc, the original father figure, and Marty's concern is about them: "What happens to us in the future? Do we become assholes or something?" Understandably, Marty is worried that he and Jennifer will deteriorate in the way that his own parents had before he changed the past, as if he will "fail" to meet up to the expectations of his own time.

Doc assures him that he and Jennifer "turn out fine," but it is the generation yet to come that is at stake: "It's your kids, Marty! Something has gotta be done about your kids!" The process of revision must now reverse itself--whereas Marty travelled into the past and literally altered the image of the 1950's to improve the 1980's, he must now become the representative of the past, using his knowledge and abilities to literally alter the image of the future.

Return to the Timeline Archives
Smack Dab in the Middle of the Blue
This baby hit 88 miles per hour on August 8, 2001.
Hey you, get your damn hands off her. arphaxad@mts.net