Oedipal Complexes are Funny: A Cautionary Tale of Back to the Future

Before I start the review, I just want to send out my condolences to the friends and family of Elizabeth Taylor, who died earlier today at the age of 79.  The two-time Oscar winner was one of the last great cinematic icons from the 1950s and 60s, and she will be greatly missed.

Our next review is the 1985 film Back to the Future, starring Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd.  It won one Oscar in 1986 for Best Sound Effects Editing, spawned two sequels, and comes in at 364 on the TSPDT list.  It’s a popular movie, but is it actually any good?

Full disclosure: No, I haven’t been living under a rock for the past 30 years, I have seen Back to the Future.  As with The Sound of Music, it’s a movie that I’ve seen many a time over the years.  Just so I don’t have to keep saying this, if the movie I’m reviewing is something I’ve seen before, I will rewatch it before I write the review. Fair enough? :)

But anyway, onward to the movie!  Marty McFly is a pretty typical teenager (albeit one that inexplicably hangs out with a middle-aged scientist most of the time) who gets sent back to the year 1955 and accidentally interferes with his parents’ (now teenagers) lives.

So Marty is living in 1985, pretty normal but with some rejection issues (I guess that kind of thing is hereditary?).  He’s got a hot girlfriend, a kind of depressing family, and a BFF in Doc Emmett Brown.  In any other movie, I think I would probably make a snarky comment or two about this pair, but it’s Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Freaking Brown.  And as far as I’m concerned, their bromance is beyond reproach.  So anyway, Marty gets a call from Doc Brown to meet him at the Twin Pines Mall, because there’s something he needs help with in the middle of the night.  Marty gets there, and apparently the big surprise is that the Doc has invented time travel.  Surprise!

Only one problem…he kind of got the plutonium required for time travel by misleading a group of Libyan terrorists.  Which, on a scale of one to ten, one being eating your own boogers and ten being Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time…maybe not the most brilliant idea.  So the terrorists ring them and politely ask for the nuclear weapon Doc Brown promised them (?!?!?!).  No, just kidding.  They show up in a van with guns and shoot the Doc.  Marty only escapes because luckily, he happens to have a Delorean capable of time travel.

Marty ends up in 1955, and inadvertently runs into his teenage father.  He follows him to teenage mom’s house, and screws up majorly by getting hit by the car his dad was supposed to get hit by.  And then ends up getting taken care of by his mom.  Thus preventing his parents from having their meet cute moment (or in this case, creepy awkward peeping tom moment).  So to sum up, Lorraine falls in love with the man her father hits with the car…only now that man is her future son, not her future husband.  This, needless to say, is an Issue.  Also, she’s kind of the horniest girl ever.

Traumatized for life, Marty escapes from the clutches of his mom-to-be, and ends up at Doc’s house.  He convinces the Doc that he’s from the future (pretty easily, actually), and they try to deal with the problem of Marty disappearing.  Apparently when your mom falls in love with you, that means that your mom and dad probably won’t end up procreating, thus never having you, but if you were never born you couldn’t go back in time and make your mom in love with you, so you’d still exist, but if you did exist then you wouldn’t.  Obviously.

So Marty pretends to be Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan (classic) to convince George that he has to ask Lorraine to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.  So they can fall in love at the dance, like they’re supposed to.  George heads to the diner to ask Lorraine out, but surprise, Biff shows up and bullies him, leading Marty to stick up for his old man.  And in the process, makes Lorraine even more in love with him.  It’s like, the kid can’t help being so ridiculously cool, you kind of can’t blame his mom for wanting to bang him.  Oh wait.  You can.  Because that’s creepy.

George and Marty come up with a foolproof plan (that is to say a plan with a high likelihood of failure) to show that George is the kind of man who can defend the woman he loves.  Although the illusion is kind of destroyed when George asks, “Do you really think I should swear?”  To up the creepiness factor, the plan is for Marty to try and violate his mother so that George can come and protect her.  Seriously.  That’s the plan.  You can’t make this shit up.

Meanwhile, Doc Brown is rigging up a wire system so that the lightning that strikes the Clock Tower can be used to power the Delorean.  So Marty has to make sure his parents hook up (bleh) and then drive the Delorean so that it’s going 88 mph and hits the wire at the exact second the lightning strikes.  Have you ever heard of a plan where so many things could go wrong?

First of all, Marty gets seriously sketched out by his mom drinking, smoking, and throwing herself at him (where is the brain bleach when you need it?).  Luckily, when she kisses him, some part of her realizes how completely screwed up this is, so the…umm…situation doesn’t go any further than that.  Unluckily, Biff chooses that moment to lock Marty in the trunk of a car and tries to rape Lorraine.  So when George shows up with his adorably prepared, “Hey you, get your damn hands off her!” it isn’t delivered to tiny little Michael J Fox, but to a freaking gorilla.  George, to his credit, mans up and punches the shit out of Biff.  And George and Lorraine have A Moment.  After a brief tussle with a random creep, George kisses Lorraine, thus ensuring that Marty will, in fact, be born.

For some reason, Marty is playing the guitar at the dance and inadvertently influences Chuck Berry with his version of Johnny B Goode (which is definitely sung by Michael J Fox…I mean, it sounds so much like him…</sarcasm>).  He gets a little out of control and imitates the stage antics of pretty much every single popular guitarist ever, and the 50s kids are like WTF.  But it’s ok, because he’s not going to be erased.  Yay!

So now all he has to do is get back to the future (come on, it had to be said).  Which he manages, but not before giving the Doc a helpful little note saying that he’s going to be shot by terrorists.  So when Marty gets back to 1985, Doc Brown is wearing a helpful little bulletproof vest when he’s shot by Libyans.  That’s convenient.  Because how much of a downer would it be if Marty went through all that just to find the dead body of his best friend once he got back to 1985?

After a nice reunion with 1985!Doc, Marty goes home.  When he wakes up in the morning, he sees his family for the first time since his little trip.  Which is a really satisfying ending.  His siblings are successful adults instead of the pathetic bums they were before, and his parents are attractive, happy, and in love.  His dad is a confident, successful author, and his mom’s not a depressed alcoholic.  Nice.  It would be interesting to see how much of the rest of his life is different (or if Marty’s memories ever change to reflect the changes in his life up to age 17), but Marty and Doc run off to go screw with the fabric of time some more before we get a chance to find out.  Which I’m actually ok with, because it leads to…Back to the Future: Part II, and the fantastic ending line, “Roads?  Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”  Although it is slightly upsetting that we’re four years away from “the future”, and I don’t have one of these sitting in my garage right now.

·         Random Musings:

  •   Not to be a jerk, but the Doc’s kind of the laziest guy ever.  I don’t know a person in the world who really needs an automated toaster.  Doesn’t he have better things to be doing?  Like installing a chameleon circuit in his Delorean so it’s not ridiculously out of place everywhere except for like three years in the mid 80s?

  •       However, I do love the Delorean.  And kind of want one.

  •   Mr Strickland’s kind of laying it on a little thick.  I mean, really.  The dude says this: “I noticed your band is on the roster for the dance auditions after school today.  Why even bother, McFly?  You don’t have a chance, you’re too much like your old man.  No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!”  Are principals really allowed to say that kind of shit to kids?  And what exactly does he have against the entire McFly family?  It’s ok though, because a second later he decides he’s not mad anymore and suddenly wants to make out with Marty.

  •       I’m sorry, I need to call bullshit on something.  Biff’s at the McFly house and asks for his work that George is doing for him (obviously).  He then yells at George, telling him that he needs time to get them retyped.  Retyped?  Really?  I think once something’s typed, that’s it…you can’t really, you know, dust or whatever to figure out who actually typed it out.  If he had said “typed”, that would be one thing, because then we could assume that George handwrote the report and Biff typed it out.  But retyped?  That just seems redundant.  Or, you know, stupid.

  •       I’m not like a relationship expert or something, but I’m thinking that “feeling sorry for someone” is not the best basis for a happy and healthy marriage.  Just saying.

  •       So Doc Brown decides to do a potentially EXTREMELY dangerous time travel test involving RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL…and he puts his dog in the car?  Nice, Doc.  Real nice.

  •       Doc wants to go 25 years into the future…to see the progress of mankind?  OK…let’s take a look.   

Yup.  Roll on the march of time.  I’m just saying, maybe he should dream a little bigger.  He’s got the whole of time at his disposal, and he goes to 2010?

  •       I love Mr Peabody.  “Take that you mutating son of a bitch!”  That’s the guy I want on my side in an alien invasion.

  •       I can’t even cope with the brilliance of the reveal in the diner when Marty realizes he’s sitting next to the teenager version of his father.  It’s so simple, but so amazingly effective.

  •       It’s also a really nice touch to have the toddler version of Uncle “Jailbird” Joey (who doesn’t make parole at the beginning of the movie) obsessed with being in his playpen…which is surrounded by bars.

  •       “Who's vice president, Jerry Lewis?”  Don’t joke about that, Doc.  It’s that kind of glib attitude that’s going to get this man elected president in 2020.


  • I’m also a huge fan of Doc Brown commenting on the videotape of himself in the future: “I’m an old man!”  When they’ve clearly done absolutely nothing in terms of make up to make him look any older in the 1985 scenes than he does in the 1955.

  •       I don’t think there’s a man alive who could make the words, “1.21 gigawatts!” as hilarious as Christopher Lloyd does.

  •       I love a man who goes up to a bar and orders, “Milk.  Chocolate,” and then tells a girl, “I’m your density.” Oh George, never change.

  •       So apparently Marty invents skateboards and rock and roll as we know it?  Good on you, Marty.  But maybe you should have dropped by a patent office or something.  Just saying.

  •       I love when Marty’s telling the Doc how his dad has never stood up to Biff in his life, and the Doc’s like, “Never?”  It’s a great way to give a teensy hint that things might not be exactly the same when Marty gets home.  Which leads up to the perfect ending.

So I think it's probably pretty clear how feel about the movie (the words "modern classic" and "icon" come to mind), but I'm actually really curious: are there people out there who don't like Back to the Future?  I mean really just don't like it?  I don't think I've ever met anyone who actively disliked this film; it might not be one of their favorites, but they don't have anything against it.  It's a fun movie with a great concept about time travel and potential incest.  What's not to love?  More than that, it really is a film that's got tremendous rewatch value.  You catch new things every time you see it, and the details of the piece, particularly regarding the changes that happen because of Marty's stint in 1955, are pretty impressive. 

Well that's it for me!  Tune in next time while I review Toy Story.  Thanks for reading!

Want to know more about the Top 1000 List?  Check it out and see if your favorites are here! They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

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Luke said...

ahahahaha, that's a great review. Strickland is the best. I want to watch Back to the Future now.

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