There is a scene late in Robert Zemeckis’ film Back to the Future that merits deep consideration by film critics, my therapist, and God. In it, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a time traveler embroiled in a classic Hollywood love triangle involving his own parents (Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson), attempts to extricate himself from this romantic entanglement by (hilariously) molesting his own mother in a parked car. This revelation was met with cheers from all of the audience members in attendance at the drive-in theater where I too sat in a parked car, traumatized, next to my own mother.
I had just arrived at that age in a teenage boy’s life when his mom becomes a source of unending embarrassment to him. This drive-in date was an attempt, prompted by my father, to bridge the growing gap that lay between my mother and myself.
It’s been said that words function only to diminish the intensity of our thoughts, but I disagree. As I sat in that parked car with my mother (watching Marty McFly make out with his own) and overheard people in adjacent cars scream at us, “Go for it!” I immediately thought: “I want to die.” Those words, even to this day, perfectly encapsulate my feelings on that moment.
So, at the behest of my court-appointed therapist, I’ve chosen to work through my issues by analyzing Back to the Future in this week’s Fiction vs. Reality. Just how would this film play out in real life?
Scenario # 1
What Happens: Marty is late for school.
Hollywood Version: Even though he bristles at being labeled a slacker, Marty can’t even summon the strength to use his skateboard – he simply hangs onto the backs of trucks and police cars. No one seems to mind. People even wave to him.
Reality: “According to Newton’s first law of motion,” asserts NYC coroner Andy Jackstone, “‘a body in motion stays in motion.’ I would write that on his death certificate after one of the trucks he held onto stopped short sending him hurtling into space and eventually the grave.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: The principal catches Marty sneaking into school late.
Hollywood Version: In addition to issuing Marty a tardy slip, the principal proffers sound advice about the ramifications of a friendship with a 50-year-old, demented scientist (Doc Brown). Then, he grabs Marty and reminds him that “no McFly has ever done anything in the history of Pine Valley.” Marty retorts, “History is about to change!”
Reality: According to UCLA history professor Byron Marcus, “A faculty member is not permitted to touch a student. And they certainly are not allowed to belittle a student’s family or potential future. Most likely, based upon the recommendation from the disciplinary committee, the principal would be reprimanded or terminated. Also, it should be noted that history, by definition, cannot change. I might recommend a tutor for Mr. McFly.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: Proving the school principal right, Doc Brown reveals to Marty that he double-crossed a team of Libyan terrorists… and he also stole their plutonium.
Hollywood Version: Doc Brown is portrayed as the victim. The Libyan terrorists make their entrance in a giant party bus replete with a guy who fires random machinegun rounds from the sunroof. During a standoff, the gun repeatedly jams and the van breaks down.
Reality: According to Mike Himmel, Department of Homeland Security, “There is a covert network of Libyan terror cells that exists in all developing countries. If someone were to double-cross one of them, a trained expert would take out that individual silently and swiftly; they would not fire machineguns from atop a van. This portrayal is deeply insulting to their culture. In fact, this film was used by Libyans to recruit terrorists for years.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: Back in 1955, a man (Marty’s grandfather) repeatedly hits children (including Marty) with his car.
Hollywood Version: The man blames the kid and yells, “Another one of these kids ran in front of my car!” Also, his daughter Lorraine (Marty’s mom) falls in love with all of her father’s victims. The scene is played for laughs.
Reality: “This is abhorrent,” says Atlanta assistant district attorney Brett Riegler. “Running over children is textbook negligent homicide. And this is a disturbing method of attracting suitors for your daughter. Regardless of the decade, I would put him away for a long time.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: After traveling back in time to 1955, Marty tries to convince Doc Brown that he is from the future.
Hollywood Version: Marty connects his 1985 JVC camera into the back of Doc Brown’s 1955 television set. Doc and Marty watch footage of the bumbling terrorists. Somewhere in Libya, more recruits join a terror cell.
Reality: “Televisions in 1955 were not equipped with audio and visual cables or ports,” says Radio Shack employee Gary Menshke. “It might be possible to erect a makeshift portal, but frankly, this is harder to accomplish and to believe than time travel.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: After punching his romantic rival’s enemy (Biff) in the face and stealing a skateboard from children, Marty leads Biff and his cronies into a pile of horse manure.
Hollywood Version: Much to Marty’s dismay, Lorraine deems Marty a “dreamboat” (saying it at least five times within an hour) and ignores George (his father).
Reality: “What we have here is a fully-formed Oedipal complex,” asserts Max Fishman, psychiatrist and author of Mother May I: Understanding Your Secret Desires. “Marty claims to want his father to be with his mother; however, his actions indicate the opposite. He is ‘peacocking’ -- behaving as the alpha male – and that leads to deep attraction from women. I recommend talk therapy for Marty regardless of the time in which he exists. His mental illness will travel with him.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: Marty employs extreme measures (and infringes upon several copyright and trademark laws) to build his father’s self-confidence.
Hollywood Version: After breaking into George’s house and claiming to be Darth Vader from Vulcan, Marty conjures up an ingenious meet-cute for his folks:
1) He will attempt to hook up with his own mom.
2) George will intercede and earn her love.
Audiences cheer. I glance at my mother seated beside me in the car and watch my soul escape my body. I wish it well.
Reality: After having a few drinks, Marty gives in to his mother’s sexual advances. When George tries to stop him, Marty punches him in the face and cements all of their bleak futures. Then, Lorraine’s dad runs over George with his car. They all return home to watch The Honeymooners and laugh.
Scenario # 8
What Happens: Oops. It’s Biff, not Marty, who tries to rape Lorraine.
Hollywood Version: The audience is upset. Why is Biff attacking her?! Her son was supposed to do that! Undeterred, George diffuses the situation (and provides Lorraine with a new object of infatuation) by punching Biff and a few other random people. The student body… loves it! They ask him to run for class president. Marty celebrates by conducting a concert during which he plagiarizes Chuck Berry’s future work.
Reality: “Lorraine is deranged,” says Geraldine Marchiz, psychologist and author of Knock, Knock: Who’s There? Your Mental Illness. “She obsesses over strong men who display acts of aggression. First it’s Marty, whom she weirdly insists on calling Calvin. Then, it’s George. Frankly (and sadly), based on her pathology, she’d be happiest with her abuser, Biff.”
Special Note: Robbed of his musical vision, Chuck Berry commits suicide.
Scenario # 9
What Happens: As Doc Brown playfully dangles from a clock tower, Marty tries (and fails) to start the engine of his car.
Hollywood Version: Frustrated, Marty head-butts the steering wheel. Ashamed, the car starts.
Reality: “Although a head-butt is quite a powerful blow when delivered to another human being,” claims nuclear physicist Ronald Dollinger, “the power harnessed from it would not be enough to start the engine of a moped, let alone a car that runs solely on plutonium. The notion of starting a car with a head-butt is not only irresponsible; it’s dangerous.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: Marty returns to 1985 and discovers that his family is successful.
- George and Lorraine see no resemblance between their son and the guy who played a seminal role in their courtship.
- Marty’s obese sister… remains obese; however, in this terrifying, alternate 1985 universe, she fields phone calls from many suitors.
- George, brimming with confidence, no longer enjoys reruns of The Honeymooners.
- Marty’s brother trades in his job at Burger King for an office job.
- Biff, Lorraine’s attacker, hangs around the McFly household and performs mundane tasks.
Reality # 1: George recognizes the resemblance between his son Marty and the man with whom his wife was infatuated with in high school. Convinced of her infidelity and their resulting “love child,” George murders the entire family.
Reality # 2: According to Seattle D.A. Michael Bloomgren, “A woman who survives sexual assault typically avoids her abuser for the remainder of her life. She will push to have her assailant put behind bars. Almost never does she allow them into her home, even to perform chores.”
Reality # 3: “We offer a competitive salary and benefits package,” asserts Brandon Merle, supervisor at Burger King. “Frankly, our opportunities for advancement are far more attractive than one could find in an office setting. We are deeply offended by the implications of this alternate universe.”
Final Thoughts: The butterfly effect theorizes that every action produces a unique consequence that would have a profound effect on the universe, not just one nuclear family. The reality is that romantic entanglements with your mother are not beloved (and hilarious) events, time-travel should be utilized to murder tyrants, not promote self-esteem, and most importantly, please be careful: altering the fabric of time may result in an alternate universe in which fat girls get suitors.