Back to the Future’s Defining Moment

10/21/2015  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

The reason Back to the Future has stuck around for the last 30 years — and the reason fans are celebrating Part II today — is simple: It’s a lovingly-crafted series anchored by iconic performances, hilarious one-liners, really cool cars, and a number of genuine, heartfelt moments. There’s one moment that often gets overlooked, but its significance runs deeper that it initially appears.

At the climax of the movie, Doc Brown prepares to send Marty and the DeLorean back to 1985. Everything is in its place, and all that’s left is to just do the job and go home. It’s the moment of truth, and Marty is visibly nervous (for a number of reasons). Then the music swells as Doc offers some much-needed reassurance:

“Don’t worry! As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely 88 miles per hour, the instant the lightning strikes the tower…”

And then he pauses, as if to reassure himself about the ludicrous procedure he just laid out. Finally, in a moment of absolute certainty, Doc boldly finishes his thought. If Marty can do all that stuff…

“…Everything will be fine.”

In Marty’s quest to get back to 1985, there have been no shortcuts. He spends a week undoing the havoc he’s wreaked between his parents. He needs to convince his father to ask his mother to the big dance so they can fall in love and have a little baby Marty someday. This is a very human, complicated problem with no clearly defined solution. They don’t simply have to go to the dance together. Marty has to make them see whatever they saw in one another in the first place, and his intervention initially only makes things worse. Relationships aren’t machines that can be repaired with blueprints and readouts. To get them just right requires time, empathy, and occasionally a little luck. Not only does Marty have to teach his father to be confident, George then has to take that lesson to heart and apply it on his own. This is as much George’s story as it is his son’s. Marty realizes that it’s not his mission to reunite his parents; they have to do that for themselves.

Once that’s accomplished, Marty’s next goal is tangibly simple: He has to drive a car into a wire at a specific speed, at a specific time. Suddenly, improbably, everything makes sense again.

To me, Doc Brown’s line is like a warm blanket. It’s about more than just Christopher Lloyd explaining the scene for the audience. It’s the ultimate assurance that our lives will turn out okay as long as we’re willing to work for it. Saying “Sure, if you do everything you’re supposed to do, everything will be fine,” isn’t necessarily always true, but sometimes that’s all we really need to hear. What Doc is saying — what we spend an entire movie witnessing — is that life is a complicated thing. People are more than just the roles they play. Before we came along, our parents had lives and experiences that molded them into the people we know today, and the same will be true of us for our own children.

There are things in life we’ll simply never understand, but as long as we’re willing to work through our problems, to see the world from another person’s perspective, to learn about ourselves and grow as people…

Then yes. Everything will be fine.

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About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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