YOUR KIDS ARE GONNA LOVE IT
by Michelle Said
If I met my dad in high school, I think our meeting would go something like this.
“Hey,” I would say to my future dad.
“Hey,” would say my future dad. He would be tall (really tall, taller than all the other kids) and he would probably be wearing his blue-and-gold letterman jacket from Terra Linda High School. I think this would be before the sideburn phase he went through in the 1970s when he married my mom, although I am not entirely sure. I haven’t seen a lot of pictures of him from high school.
“So,” I would say, getting to the point, “You should probably marry that girl Margo you are going to meet in college. You’ll meet her at freshman orientation and you’ll be going out off-and-on for about five years before you get married at 23.”
“Twenty-three?” he would say, aghast. “That seems pretty young.”
“Oh, yeah,” I would say. “It is, I guess. But you guys are good together. Really good together.”
I think he would probably nod, taking this all in. “How do you know this?” he would say, and look at me funny.
Then I would change the subject with a piece of generic advice (“Try not to get too stressed out by the little things.”) and/or walk away. It’s a pretty tough subject for just meeting someone, you know.
That’s basically the idea that inspired Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis to write Back to the Future. Thank god they did, since it’s the best movie ever created. I am of the staunch opinion that if you don’t like it, there is something wrong with you. Although I am usually equanimous and respectful of other people’s opinions, I just can’t allow leeway for people who dislike this movie. This is a film that seamlessly mixes Jules Verne with Sherman and Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle, with a dash of high-stakes Cyrano de Bergerac and Oedipus Rex for good measure. I have seen it so many times I could probably recite it off to you line-by-line. (Although I promise not to.)
I can’t remember the first time I watched it. I was three when it came out, so TBS has been playing it on Saturday afternoons for almost my entire life. It’s the movie that was on in the background while I learned long division, while wearing metal brackets on my teeth, while getting ready for my first driving lesson. In the back of my mind, it’s always 1985.
The weird part is, I have never really stopped to think why this movie speaks to me on such a deep level. I know that when I first started watching it obsessively it was more to do with my crush on Michael J. Fox than anything else. One look into his dreamy pool-blue eyes and I was lost. The fact that he was short and married didn’t really factor into the equation. After all, I was short (I was 9) and everybody knew Hollywood marriages didn’t last. By the time I was 18, I was sure I would somehow meet him and make him fall in love with me.
Somewhere along the line, I realized this ironclad plan was probably not going to come to fruition. And yet, my love for the movie had grown tenfold. I will admit, I am a sucker for a good gimmick—a souped-up time-travelling Delorean is right up my alley. The jokes are fun, and easy. (People in 1955 don’t know about things that exist in 1985! Hilarity!) The characters are broadly drawn and easy to identify (Biff is a bully, George is a geek, Marty is a hero, Doc is an eccentric). But it is because the movie has these archetypes that it is able to survive (and thrive) in repeats.
Upon revisiting, it’s weird to think that this was such a studio-sponsored blockbuster. Sure, there were some gentle green-screen effects and some corporate tie-ins (Pepsi-sponsored and Toyota-approved), but for the most part it’s just an old-fashioned film. That happened to be produced by Steven Spielberg.
I think Back to the Future’s most stunning achievement is its timelessness. Although it is clearly a period movie—everything in the film highlights and underlines that this is a 1985 movie for 1985 audiences—it stands up over time. The in-jokes shouldn’t still be funny 25 years later. Marty plays horrible 80s rock, the fashion is ridiculous (although it has, remarkably, found a resurgence in certain groups as of late), and the jokes about the old-fashioned 1950s seem silly seeing how the movie makes 1985 seem just as ancient. (How many kids today even know Ronald Reagan used to be an actor?) And, how close we are to 2015, the year they travel to in the second film! It’s downright adorable to see how we thought we would be in flying cars, how we hadn’t even contemplated the internet, how different it all is from how we thought it might be. …I want my hoverboard.
But that’s all for another discussion.
Like I said, I had never really contemplated why I loved this movie so much as a kid or why I still love it so much as an adult. I mean, I still think it’s incredibly well done and well-written. But that’s not the reason I have held it so closely for so many years. I’ve realized that what brings me back to having Back to the Future as my all-time favorite movie is that message that we all have control over our own destiny, that no matter what, it is our actions that determine our own fate. It’s that cheesy, oft-heard cry of the 1980s, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” It’s the message Doc Brown gave to Marty who gave it to his father which gave him the confidence to pursue a career in writing and get the girl. It’s the message I keep forgetting in the day-to-day shuffle. But just by watching Back to the Future I remember it, and remember myself, and try a little harder.
Michelle Said is a writer living in New York who still kind of thinks Michael J. Fox is the best. She tumbls here.