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Relevance Not Rememberance

Written by Christopher Irving

It’s August, 2012. My father had died just a month before and, between grieving and trying to be close to him in the only way he and I could be, I backtracked and watched the movies and TV shows we both loved. Leave It to Beaver. Rocky. The Munsters.

But Back to the Future?

We hadn’t spoken for years. Not since I was a kid.

It isn’t that my memories of it were bad. Quite the opposite: I remembered it as one of my favorite movies, ever. But that was the problem: What if it had actually aged, and poorly?

Perhaps it had gained a paunch in the twenty years since last we spoke, or somehow become less funny or even more dated.

What if it was like rewatching Porky’s, which is not half as funny as my teenage self remembered it being?

Damnedest thing, though: through some chronal trickery, Back to the Future was actually a better movie than I’d ever remembered it. Then I realized, it wasn’t remembrance, but a newfound relevance to me as an adult for, when I had last seen it in my early teens, I didn’t know my father was human.

Sure, I knew he was a human, but that’s different from the moment when it finally dawns on you that your parent has actual humanity to them. Back to the Future isn’t just about Marty McFly affecting great change in both his timeline and life through meeting his parents in their youth, but about a son finally accepting his father for being flawed and then finally believing in him.

When I was a kid, I rooted for Marty, because he was the cool teenager I always wanted to be, but as an adult, I find myself rooting for George more because, like myself and my father, he was immensely flawed.

As an adult, I also realized something deeper in the relationship between Marty and Doc Brown: Marty is just as much a misfit as his old man (but a different type of misfit: a freak rather than a geek), left helping the town crank out with his crackpot experiments. The thing is that Doc, more than anyone in Marty’s family, fully believes in the boy.

Here’s where I start thinking too much: If Marty bonds with Doc fills that father figure role his father is unable to, and then the timeline is rewritten in which George becomes the man Marty always wanted to be able to look up to, that may negate Marty’s reason for hanging out with Doc in the first place, and being there that chilly October night in 1985, when the DeLorean takes him back to 1955.

And if Marty’s neighborhood in the original timeline is in a now run-down development, and his family is pretty well off in the second 1985 timeline, then why would they be in that same neighborhood?

But aside from the logistics of Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’ character-driven script, Back to the Future is a downright perfect film which, I think, is the secret to it holding up thirty years later. Older movies have to often grow into becoming classics which, as far as I’m concerned, are older films that maintain a degree of relevancy.

And Back to the Future is the classic Great American Film.

Christopher Irving is a comic book and popular culture historian, who also publishes under the imprint The Drawn Word
His most recent book, Michael Allred: Conversations, has just been released from University of Mississippi.
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