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BACK TO THE FUTURE’s Heavy Nostalgia

Written by Todd Sokolove

Oh, this is heavy, Doc. I mean, it’s 
just like I was just here yesterday.
You were here yesterday, Marty, you were!
– Back to the Future Part II

While you were busy counting up all the ways in which October 21, 2015 isn’t the future you were promised, I was looking for a college essay from my past.

Back in film school, had a professor who was obsessed with applying semiotic analysis to cinema. He seriously ruined The Wizard of Oz for me by connecting Dorothy’s ruby red shoes to her blossoming sexuality. The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion represented the types of men she would encounter on her sexual journey to adulthood before meeting “the one” who would send her home (orgasm).

I had a feeling Freud wasn’t in Kansas any more.

When it came time to turn in my mid-term paper, naturally I jumped at the opportunity to impress my professor with a tri-level analysis of the entire Back to the Future trilogy. I called it “Whoa Doc, This Is Heavy.”

I wanted to share the paper verbatim with you, but in true irony, it’s on a floppy disk and I’m without an external drive at the moment.

I can share with you two things I’ve learned about the beloved action-comedy franchise:

That there is more product placement in the first fifteen minutes of the first movie than all three films combined. It’s seriously phenomenal.

Secondly, and more related to reflecting on Back to the Future now, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Here we are 30 years later, and the biggest grossing film of 1985 is still celebrated in pop culture.

A large part of the love for the film comes from fans like myself, who saw it opening weekend. But there’s a whole new generation of fans embracing the film as a representation of the world 30 years ago.

Hollywood in the 1980s loved to wax romantic on the mid 1950s, pretty much in through the same revisionist approach in which we totally love the awesome 80s.

Marty McFly never traveled to the real 1955, because he was never in the real 1985. Furthermore, had Robert Zemeckis been able to travel to the real 2015, you can bet he would have represented it through his signature You Are There reenactment.

Through the trilogy, Marty McFly got three versions of 1985, two versions of 1955 and a Pepsi Perfect version of 2015, all courtesy of the space time continuum. Zemeckis told us where we were, where we are, and were we’re going via Flux Capacitor.

Not one for subtlety, the director’s filmography often approaches historical accuracy a tad on the manipulative meter. But he is certainly a creator of worlds, something of which New York’s Museum of Modern Art recently celebrated with a full retrospective of his work.

Here’s a director that has been celebrated for pushing technology so that he can add fictional characters an already reshaped the perception of historical events. I’m not going to dwell on my disdain for Forrest Gump, but I prefer the director when he recreates and reshapes his own movies and memories of them.

Brilliantly, in Back to the Future Part II, he not only reworks the events of the first movie, but he dwells upon the standout moments of nostalgia that made it part of the mid 80s zeitgeist. It’s one of the most grand-scale throwback experiments in popular cinema, and probably the reason it’s one of the less understood sequels.

I adore that there are small moments in all three parts of the trilogy that foreshadow future events; e.g. a man hanging from a clock in the opening credits of Part One, a western-style shooter video game at Cafe 80s from part two.

With Back to the Future, Zemeckis sealed the ultimate experience in 50s nostalgia, represented some things we loved about the 80s (Power of Love still holds up), and somewhat shaped our dreams for a hover-board riding, car flying, Jaws 19 watching, pizza rehydrating 2015.

It’s only a movie trilogy, and it may not be real past, present nor future, but for so many it was, is and will be more.

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