10th Apr2017

Movies to Show My Son: ‘Back to the Future’

by Dan Clark

Welcome to another installment of Movies to Show My Son. This is the blog series were I discuss movies I can’t way to show my son in the future. I’ll be covering my own personal experience with the movie, movie lessons and life lessons I hope he will learn, and lastly my concerns about showing said film. This week’s film is Back to the Future.

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Personal Memories:

I feel like Back to the Future is one of those movies I watched before I was even born—as if the government used microwave rays to send it directly into the womb in some sort of insane Regan era scheme. The thought being they could use time traveling babies to fight Russia’s monkey robots. Even if that was true it would only be half as crazy as today’s political climate.

As a kid I remember enjoying the third installment the most. That was partially because it was easier to distinguish from the other two, and partially because it had a flying train. (Spoiler) Even though it was only a few seconds I would watch the entire film just to relieve that moment. It was a train, and it could fly! I also enjoyed the short lived animated series and its take on the franchise. I remember being confused about why that show had characters that were never a big part of the actual movies.

I never had the pleasure of watching any of the Back to the Future films in theaters. As someone who was born in ’84 they were all released to home video by the time I was old enough to watch them. My memories come from when they were on television which I feel like was all the time. It was great when Back to the Future would end with that infamous ‘To Be Continued’ and luckily moments later the next installment would begin.

Grower older and somewhat wiser my love of Back of the Future III weaned and my admiration for the first Back to the Future has catapulted. It is as if every ounce of it was perfectly manufactured to elicit joy. I do not think there has ever been a film made that better empathizes the importance of being fun. This is still the standard that all other popcorn movies should be judged by. It shows you do not need to substitute characters and story with hollow action to make something that has universal appeal.

Age to Show:

Back to the Future is true to the words of “fun for all ages”. I could see showing this as early as five years old but I think around seven or eight would be more appropriate. There are a few naughty words that are articulated a time or two. More so I could see the plot elements going over the head of a five year old. Time travel is a tricky storytelling element that can be confusing. A first or second grader would be able to comprehend enough to enjoy.

Movie Lessons:

One element that bugs me about today’s world of movie criticism is the way people use logic to nit pick movies. Something like the ‘Everything Wrong With’ videos are notorious for this. What is overlooked is how movies can create their own logic and rules. When it is done poorly it can ruin a film. When it is done well it can lead to some of the most iconic images in all of film making. That is the case with Back to the Future.

When your narrative centers on time travel its success hinges upon how well those rules are executed. Even when you have a film like Looper, that literally calls out not wanting to talk about time travel due to the paradox it creates, some sort of rules need to be established. Back to the Future takes all paradigms, complexity, and potential plot holes and avoids them by keeping things fairly simple.

Back to the Future is so good at creating its own rules they have become part of pop culture lore. The idea of time travel causing someone to disappear from a photo is pretty brilliant as long as you do not force in real life logic. If it came out today some YouTube personality would be calling out how that action really does not make any logical sense. Similar to Star Wars, Back to the Future is more fantasy than Science Fiction. A flux capacitor has as much science backing as a spell from Harry Potter. What makes it work is the execution and consistency.

From the moment time travel is introduced Doc Brown sets the stakes of what could go wrong and how those problems could occur. Before Marty accidentally goes back to 1955 most of the vital rules have already been established. Dialog is not enough though so the photo adds both a visual representation of those rules along with being a ticking time bomb. With this film my son can see logic is what a movie makes it, and how those rules can immediately raise the stakes.

Life Lessons:

There are immediate lessons Back to the Future can teach you:

  • Never steal plutonium from the Albanians because they find you. You may not know how, but they will find you.
  • The only thing standing in your way of time travel is a flux capacitor and a Delorean that can travel to the speeds of eighty-eight miles per hour.
  • Oh, and also the realization that at one time no one knew the correct pronunciation of the word gigawatt.

More important some key lessons are summed up in this Doc Brown quote:

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That may seem strange for a character that spoke so specifically about the responsibility of time travel, but in the end that is not what the core theme of the film is about. What we see is that destiny can be rewritten and for the better. Marty’s present life improves tremendously due to his actions in the past. Obviously my son can’t take my car and travel back to 2004 when me and his mom first met to gives us stock tips so twenty years later we are living the high life. So what lesson can be learned here?

The key is not how things changed it is why. In the original timeline Lorraine and George formed a relationship over a very thin reason. She saw him as a victim and a project to fix. On top of that George never stood up to Biff, rather he remained content with doing his biding. Now in the new timeline George stood up to that bully and won his girl on his own accord. Instead of being a victim his entire life he choose to fix the problem.

There are a lot of lessons there to learn. For one there is the importance of standing up to bullies. I know bullying is a hot button issue right now, although the truth is it has been a part of growing up since the beginning of humanity. I’m sure caveman would bully each other over the size of their clubs and who had the best animal skins. (We all know it is Mammoth fur or nothing at all)

On a more broad perspective Back to Future shows how the decision you make now will impact your life in the future in some way. You can choose to quiver or you can choose to stand up for yourself and fix the problem. You can choose to simply lust or you can choose to find love. Mistakes can be undone, but it will take some work and at times a tiny bit of time travel.

Lastly, Back to the Future shows my son that parents were teenagers once too. A fact I am still unable to fully accept for my own parents. Despite the façade we try to build as parents we made our fair share of dumb choices. I am sure I will tell my son to not do things that I admittedly did myself. So in a way this is a lesson more for me than him. Aspects of life to think about as he grows older into the later teenage years.

For me what this film shows though is that the façade we build will eventually be broken so maybe we shouldn’t build it. I can tell my son I never drank before I was twenty-one , or I can be truthful and tell him I did. Not only did I but had a lot of fun doing it. But also not shy away from the consequences. I do not want to condone that type of behavior but I also do not want to lie. I honestly do not know what the right answer. Maybe we can get Doc Brown to construct a model for us to help us choose the right course of action.

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Concerns:

Much of Back to the Future is built on comparing life in the 1980’s with life in the 1950’s. Marty is as 80’s as and 80’s character can get. From his lingo to his choice of style everything screams the 1980’s. When he travels to the 50’s he becomes the ultimate fish out of water. A lot of humor comes from seeing this modern kid try to live a classic lifestyle.

The issue is that modern time is now thirty plus years old. We are as far away from Marty’s time as Marty was from the 1950’s. For my son Back to the Future won’t be about comparing the modern world to the past. It will be about comparing a long time ago with a really, really long time ago. Most if not all of the 80’s references will go over his head. Many went over mine as a kid and I was born in the 80’s.

My hope is it will be similar to how something like The Simpsons that works whether you understand its references or not. Also maybe there is something to watching worlds you do not know interact with one another. Rewatching it recently I do feel that Back to the Future has something for everyone to greatly enjoy whether they were born in the 1950’s, 1980’s, or the 2010’s. It has become a cultural milestone as much as any film in the last thirty years, and seeing how much the world still obsesses over hover boards I do not seeing its impact slowing down any time soon.

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