Sunday, 24 June 2012

Back to the Future (1985)

I caught Back the the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985) at Park Lane's fan favorites, but the screening could just as easily have been Logan's Run, because no one in that theatre was older than thirty. Where were all the people who could actually have been nostalgic for Back to the Future -- not just "this came out the year I was born" nostalgic, but "I snogged a girl in the back row at this movie" nostalgic, properly nostalgic? You hear me, Gen-X-ers? Where were you to do tribute to this flawless film? The Millennials may be a pretty disappointing generation so far, but at least we're not too proud to pay slavish homage to the masterpieces of yesteryear.

"I can't believe it, Marty! We've become trapped in this girl's blog!"
Michael J. Fox stars as Back to the Future's Marty McFly, skateboarding apprentice mad scientist to Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd, inspired, insane). Brown's just turned a car into a time machine, but he's powering it with plutonium he stole from terrorists, and when they show up to gun the doctor down, the only place Marty can escape to is 1955. Once he gets there, he's stuck: there's no more plutonium to send him back to the age of Reagan, shoulder pads and hair metal (unexplained plot hole: why he'd want to return). A younger Dr. Brown comes to Marty's aid, but before he can go back to the future (!!!) Marty must turn the eyes of his mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) towards his father George (Crispin Glover) or risk creating a time paradox. Unfortunately, Lorraine's got the hots for Marty, but a mean jock assaults her at just the right time and George steps in to save the day (and the life of his unborn son). Everything put right, Marty heads back to the future (!!!), which is better than he left it: Dr. Brown survived the terrorist attack and the McFlys are wealthy enough that Marty now has his own car (although sadly there's still Ronald Reagan and hair metal).

Cinematically speaking, Back to the Future is a perfect movie. I don't say that lightly. There's nothing to add, nothing to remove. It's a diamond. That said, the film is also deeply superficial. This movie is not about anything. I mean, it's ostensibly about a kid who has to get back to the future (!!!), but there are no themes here, no deeper meaning. What message do you take away from Back to the Future? Not to flirt with your mom? Not to buy plutonium off the black market? I'm drawing a blank. Plus, although Back to the Future is hilarious, the source of its humor is really, really weird. Nine out of ten dentists agree that most people don't find incest hilarious, yet the audience in the theatre was in stitches when Marty's mom stripped him naked while unconscious and subsequently tried to coerce him into staying the night.

Back to the Future's politics haven't aged well -- Lorraine's near-rape is played as George's big chance to be a hero, the "Libyans" who sold Dr. Brown his plutonium are screeching Arab stereotypes, and a throwaway joke which implies Chuck Berry stole his groundbreaking "Johnny B. Goode" from a white guy left me squirming in my seat. To play the devil's advocate, though, it's all more ignorant than malicious, and the Eighties has worse gaffes to atone for (Sixteen Candles, anyone?). The moments that make you cringe are in far shorter supply than the moments of inspired brilliance, such as Marty coercing George into pursuing Lorraine by impersonating "Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan" and torturing him with Van Halen guitar licks. I give Back to the Future a 5/5. I can't not. It's dated, it's bizarre, but it's a work of mad genius.

The first PSA for "don't stick your dick in crazy."
SCENE STEALER: No, I'm not putting Christopher Lloyd here. Fuck you, everyone who's seen this movie knows that Christopher Lloyd is the real star. Writing about how great he is would be like shooting fish in a barrel, I'm not going to do it. Instead, I urge you to turn your eyes to Lea Thompson as Marty McFly's mom/stalker Lorraine. From a feminist point of view, Back to the Future's heroines are ahead of their time (no pun intended). The juxtaposition of Lorraine's aggressive sexuality and sweet nature, although played for laughs, is an 80s teen movie rarity: the brat pack was pretty clearly divided into virgins (Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald) and whores (Demi Moore, Nicolette Sheridan). I'm not condoning that, just stating that a character as complex as Lorraine's was a rarity in this kind of film. Marty's girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells) is similar: mature, polite, intelligent, and oozing teen lust from every pore. The slack Back to the Future cuts its ladies is refreshing, not that it excuses the movie's deus ex machina date rape.

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