Mark Overanalyses Film

Back To The Future

March 20, 2024 Season 4 Episode 11
Back To The Future
Mark Overanalyses Film
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Mark Overanalyses Film
Back To The Future
Mar 20, 2024 Season 4 Episode 11

Where Mark is going, he needs overanalysis as he tries to figure what makes Back To The Future so (ahem) electrifying, what any story is truly 'about', and if the whole trilogy is secretly the best sequel to Star Wars ever made.

Show Notes Transcript

Where Mark is going, he needs overanalysis as he tries to figure what makes Back To The Future so (ahem) electrifying, what any story is truly 'about', and if the whole trilogy is secretly the best sequel to Star Wars ever made.

Hi everybody, and welcome to Mark Overanalyses Film! Today, for the final episode of the season, ho boy, I will be overanalysing Back To The Future. And I should warn you: if you have a low tolerance for gushing, this might not be the podcast episode for you. 

Before I begin, allow me to remind you that I am available for reading, script editing, and story coaching at And also, if you enjoy this podcast, please do share and/or recommend it. It really would be a great help. Also, a little bit of housekeeping: this is the final episode of Season 4. I’m not totally sure yet when I will be back for Season 5 — I need some time to concentrate on other projects and to recharge my overanalysis batteries — but I hope it will be by the end of the summer. 

Anyways, Back To The Future was written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, with Zemeckis also directing. 

Now, this film is really a foundational text for this podcast. And that is, essentially, because Back To The Future is so dynamic, so fun, its plot so captivating, its characters so engaging, that when, some years ago, I asked myself the question: “what is Back To The Future actually ‘about’?”, I found, to my surprise and fascination, that I couldn’t really say. How could I have seen this film god knows how many times, and not know exactly what it means?! 

And that’s where overanalysing Mark comes in. Because my job here is to remove things like “pacing” and “fun”, and hopefully show how the story of Back To The Future works, and why it makes us feel what it makes us feel. Cos, y’know, why enjoy a film when you could overanalyse it?

So, keeping that in mind, first, I’m going to look at the fundamental features of our protagonist Marty McFly and the characters around him. Second, I’ll show how the story tells us what it means by looking at the main story beats and sequences of the film. Finally, I’ll talk about how these relate to the sequels.

Ok, let’s begin by defining our protagonist: Marty McFly. Marty is a well-meaning, risk-taking, troublemaking 17-year-old American teenager who loves rock n’ roll, cars, and his girlfriend Jennifer, and is chafing against the rest of his family for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.  

Now, other than these surface factors, there are really 3 things we can look at to help define any film’s protagonist: their life dream, their Want, and their Need. 

So, Marty’s Life Dream is basically what he wants when we first meet him and before our story has properly started. And this is vital, because it’s how we define our protagonist as clearly as possible. To quote Chekhov, cos hey why not, it’s the weekend: “When I would feel a desire to understand someone, or myself, I would take into consideration not actions, in which everything is relative, but wishes. Tell me what you want and I'll tell you who you are.” Everything Marty will do after Act I is contingent on the limits and needs of his mission, but at the start of our story, Marty is free to dream. And here, Marty’s main objective is to go on a date with Jennifer tomorrow night, but he also dreams of being a rockstar and owning a 4x4. Marty is driven by a sense of excitement, by adventure. That is who he is.

Ok, the next thing is Marty’s Capital W Want, which is really Marty’s tangible objective for the long second act of our film. And in an ideal world, this is a SMART goal, in that it should be specific, measurable, achievable (just about), relevant, and time bound. And of course, in Back To The Future, all these elements are in place. From 30 minutes in, Marty has to figure out a way to get back safely to 1985. It takes him another while to realise it, but this means that he will have to get his parents to fall in love, before he can drive a DeLorean at 88 miles per hour into a bolt of lightning at exactly 10:04pm on Saturday night. Why 88 miles per hour? I don’t know, but it may or may not be because 88 looks like 2 infinity symbols.

Finally though, most importantly, we have to define the Need. Now, briefly, let me say that there are really 2 kinds of stories. In most stories, the protagonist has a lack or a flaw and they have a lesson or a Need that they must embrace at the story’s end. In other stories though, the protagonist already possesses this Need at the start of the story, and they must struggle to maintain it. But also, stories are about change. So, in this second kind of story, the protagonist doesn’t change themselves, but they and the Need they represent changes the people and the world around them.

Back To The Future is this 2nd kind of story. As Bob Gale puts it in his excellent interview on the Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith Podcast, when he and Robert Zemeckis were writing Back To The Future, the cliche was “Father knows best”, so they decided it would be fun to invert that and have the son travel back in time and teach the father something. So, Marty McFly doesn’t need to change himself, but his world and the people around him do.  

  And this is where things get exciting, because this change, this Need, for me, is the thematic argument of the film, and therefore the answer to that question I couldn’t figure out some years ago: “What is Back To The Future actually about?”. So, what is the Need or thematic argument that Marty has and must convince the world, and especially his father, of? Well, you could probably phrase it any number of ways, but the film explicitly tells us, and it does so twice. At minute 71, deep into Act II, Marty tells his father: [] “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” And then, of course, we know this Need has been embraced because, at minute 105, after having clearly lived a more confident, empowered life, George, with his final words of the film, repeats this advice right back. []

Ok, now we have the building blocks, let’s have a look at the acts and sequences of Back To The Future to see how it makes this argument. 


The Sequences

There are traditionally, but not always, 3 acts and 8 sequences, or stages, in a film. A sequence is a combination of scenes that are tied together by having a single overriding dramatic question or tension, and they tend to be between 10 and 15 minutes in length. A good way to think about it is that every 10-15 minutes, the audience should be on some level asking themselves a different dramatic question. 

Act I has our first two sequences, and the first one is always pretty much “life as it is”. Now, I’d like to spend a little bit of extra time on this first sequence in particular because 1) it’s brilliant, and 2) one of my favourite quotes about stories is again from Bob Gale in that Q&A podcast. He said “What helps an audience I think is to always know what has to happen for the movie to be over”. That is brilliant advice. To some, it may sound counterintuitive, but the tension of any story is really “how?”, not “what?” And this first act is going to tell us so, so much, both explicitly and implicitly, about what needs to happen for our story to be over. The question then is how on Earth Marty can possibly achieve it!

So, first, we see Doc’s lab as Marty enters, and there’s just a ton of information here, both about the characters but also about the plot. We learn, for instance, that Doc has the plutonium that has been claimed by Libyan terrorists. Which seems, y’know, odd. But also, we are immediately told who Marty is and the fact that he is a risk-taker, because the very first thing we see him do is turn Doc’s cartoonishly gigantic amp up to 11, and he is literally blown away by it. But there’s something else I’d like to note here. Back To The Future is probably the single greatest film of all time for foreshadowing, setups and payoffs, and visual cues. But there’s one subtle visual cue right here that has a thematic payoff at the end of our film. The very first time we see Marty’s face, he is wearing top bar aviator sunglasses. The first time we see George McFly in the new future of 1985 in Act III, that’s right, he is wearing top bar aviator sunglasses. The moment we see George in the new 1985, we know he has become more like Marty.

But anyways, for now, the film further defines its protagonist in the best possible way. Any great film worth its salt gives its protagonist a problem to solve in their first scene, and then defines the protagonist by how they attempt to solve it. And well, is there a more iconic opening problem? [] So, Marty skitches, and yes, I am old enough to remember the term for that, on the back of a truck. Which is risky and dangerous, but it’s also kind of innocent and insouciant. And that is Marty McFly, perfectly defined. God, I love this movie. 

This sequence, though, is all about life as it is for Marty McFly, so we meet his loving, supportive girlfriend Jennifer, we see his school, we see his band in action, we see the town that he lives in, we see the car that he wants, and in a bit we’ll meet his whole family. But there is so much more going on here. Marty and his band fail the audition to play the school dance, cos Huey Lewis reckons they’re just too darn loud. And Marty finds himself whining to Jennifer and admitting that he won’t send a recording to a label because, well, “what if he isn’t good enough?”. This, in our opening sequence, is the antithesis of the film: the counter to the thematic argument. And notice, Marty immediately snaps out of it and says he’s starting to sound like his Dad, the embodiment of the antithesis. And you might notice that he’s already been compared to his father by the principle. So, there’s an implicit question here and throughout the whole film: will Marty become like his Dad, or will his Dad become like Marty? 

And so, soon, it’s time Marty got home, and we meet the McFly’s in all their… well, whatever the opposite of glory is. Biff has totaled George’s car, and George can’t stand up to him, making the excuse that Biff is his boss. Marty’s brother, Dave, works at a fast food place, and insists that Marty is better off not playing at the school dance cos it would just be a headache. Marty’s sister Linda complains about having to answer the phone to Marty’s girlfriend, and that she’s never going to meet anyone. And, finally, a soused Lorraine tells the story of how she and George fell in love. Which is, of course, going to be vital exposition for our long 2nd act. And again, this is our Bob Gale quote. Here, Lorraine and her uninterested daughter tell us what has to happen for Marty’s parents to fall in love in 1955. Yes, it began with George getting hit by a car, but the vital moment is when they kissed on the dancefloor at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, and Lorraine knew then that she would spend the rest of her life with George. If this does not happen, Marty cannot safely return to 1985.  

But for now, this is Marty’s family, and while Marty feels so vivid and alive, there’s a pall of a dull kind of sadness over everyone else. They all have to learn that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything. So, it’s about time we get our story really started. And, at minute 16, Doc Brown calls Marty to remind him to meet him at the Twin Pines Mall. At that, we wonder some version of the question “Will Marty find out what Doc is up to?”. And so, with our first real tension of the story, we enter sequence II.

  And here, we see the other big part of Marty’s life: his life with Doc Brown. Now, again, there’s just so much exposition here which is masterfully delivered, but the key events are that Doc Brown gets murdered by Libyan terrorists, and Marty, in his bid to escape, ends up travelling back in time to 1955. We now have our big 2nd act tension: will Marty find a way to get back to 1985 safely? And so, at minute 30, we end Act I and we enter Act II.

Act II begins with Sequence III: the first attempts to solve the problem. And this sequence has its own tension. Between minutes 30 and 41, Marty will refuse to believe that this is not just a dream, so we wonder if he will accept that this is very much really happening to him. Now, at the beginning of Act II, we always have what we call a “What’s the plan?” scene, to tell the audience what they can expect to happen for the next 50 minutes or so. So, pretty quickly, Marty wanders into town, discovers that he is in 1955, struggles to fit in, begins looking for Doc Brown to help him, and accidentally encounters his father. This is what our 2nd Act is. But Sequence III is always defined by the refusal of the call, or a retrenchment away from the protagonist’s Need. So, when Marty runs into George in the diner, Marty is shook, and he acts more like his father, rather than the other way around. Then, of course, Biff enters with his cronies and we discover that he has been bullying George all his life, and that George has taken it all his life. Then, with Marty distracted by Goldie, the future Mayor, he lets George escape him. All of this, you’ll notice, is a retrenchment from our eventual thematic argument. But: Sequence III then always ends with the acceptance of the call, or the protagonist’s first unconscious move towards their Need. Now, this is unconscious because it is generally in reaction to something, and the protagonist is not actively aware of what they’re doing. But Marty, being a naturally empowered risk-taker, sees a car coming for his father and pushes him out of the way. It’s an unconscious reaction, but it will change his father and his family’s destiny forever. And, in case it didn’t feel exemplary enough, Marty is literally knocked unconscious in this story beat. When he finally wakes up, Marty will tell his mother that he had a terrible dream. But, when she tells him that it’s 1955, and the lights come on and she’s still a teenager, Marty will finally, truly accept that this is really happening. You can see why it’s called “the acceptance of the call”, right? This is generally the story beat when the protagonist not only makes a movement towards their Need, but actively embraces the mission. It’s when Luke decides to leave Tatooine in Star Wars. It’s when Michael Corleone decides he needs to be ruthless to protect his family in The Godfather. And it’s when Marty McFly accepts that he really is in 1955 with his teenage parents. So, our sequence tension is answered, and now more than ever Marty has to find Doc Brown and figure out a way back to 1985. And so, with a new tension, it’s time for sequence IV: the greater attempts to solve the problem.

Now, I love when a film like this has such a clear example of what I like to call “Sabrina’s letter home” structure, from Billy Wilder’s 1954 classic. Basically, when Sabrina writes home, she says something good, then bad, then good, then bad. This is a common feature of storytelling, and Sequence IV here is a really clear example. This is when the protagonist, having accepted the call, faces greater forces of antagonism. So, Marty accepts that he is in 1955. That’s good. Unfortunately, his mom has the hots for him. That’s, well, that’s a bad one. But then he escapes his Mom’s house and he finds Doc Brown. That’s good. But then Doc Brown doesn’t believe him. That’s bad. Then he convinces Doc Brown. That’s good. But then Doc Brown discovers that he needs 1.21 gigawatts for the time machine to work. That’s bad. Then he discovers that lightning will strike the clock tower at precisely 10:04pm next Saturday night. That’s good. Then he discovers that Marty has intervened in how his parents met and accidentally changed the course of history wiping out himself and his entire family. That’s not great… This feels like some kind of highpoint thus far for our antithesis, and we need a strong counter. And so, at minute 53 into a 107 minute runtime (almost exactly halfway), we have Back To The Future’s all-important midpoint: or, the protagonist’s first conscious move towards their Need. 

So, remember, Back To The Future is all about empowerment and backing yourself. Not letting people, limits, life, or history set your limits for you. At any moment, you can change your life. But that’s hard to see. So, let’s make it more tangible. Let’s say, specifically, at any moment, you can change your future. That is the thesis of Back To The Future, and its genius is that its thematic argument and its plot are in perfect harmony. We can’t see today how if we backed ourselves and took a risk, it would immeasurably improve our lives. But, if we travelled back in time, and made a different decision back then, then we could know how better our lives were in our present. It is the ultimate way to show the importance of embracing your own power. It is the ultimate way to prove the thematic argument. So, at minute 53, 2 things happen in quick succession. Doc Brown, who has just told Marty that it would be impossible to send him back to 1985, discovers an incredible solution. [] And then, immediately, right after he counsels Marty not to be reckless, he discovers what Marty has done. He looks at his family photo and sees that Marty’s brother is disappearing, and he decides that now Marty can and must empower himself to change and fix the course of history. 

Just before I continue, I should also point out that a perfect, paradigmatic midpoint should do a few things all at one. It should act as the protagonist’s first conscious move towards their Need, as we’ve just seen, but in an ideal scenario, it should also raise the stakes of our story and also foreshadow our climax. So, Marty now not only has to get back to 1985, he also has to save his own future and the lives of his siblings, so it’s safe to say, the stakes are raised. Furthermore, halfway through our story, Marty and Doc Brown come up with the plan that they will then execute in the climactic sequence. But more than that, thematically, in this moment, Doc Brown shifts suddenly from arguing that Marty must not do anything to change the future to insisting that he must be proactive to ensure he saves lives. Which is exactly the change of heart that Doc Brown will once again have in 47 minutes time. That is foreshadowing, and that is a goddamn midpoint. God I love it!

But anyways, Marty has found Doc Brown and discovered a way back to 1985, so our sequence IV tension has been answered. So, at minute 53, it’s time for Back To The Future’s Sequence V: the Honeymoon Sequence.

The Honeymoon Sequence is so called because, having acted in accordance with their Need, things start to generally go well for our protagonist for a while. And what that really means here is that Marty and George are going to bond, and Marty is going to have a greater influence on his future father. So, there’s a lot to note. First of all, our sequence tension is: Can Marty find a way to get his parents together? Marty goes to school, which he does in the beginning, middle, and end of our story. Here and now though, he meets his father, and he attempts to convince him to ask Lorraine out. When the first attempts go terribly and worryingly reminiscent of Oedipus Rex, Marty realises that this is the week of the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance. Now, he begins working on George to ask Lorraine to this. And, you might notice, this here, at the heart of our honeymoon sequence, is where son and father really bond. Marty realises that George is not just his diffident old man, but that he too once had dreams of his own: and that at 17, he could sometimes sound quite like his son. But that’s not where it ends. George runs home, and becomes suspicious about why Marty keeps insisting on him asking Lorraine to the dance rather than staying home and watching Science Fiction Theatre. And so, here, we have a really clever moment. In Act III, Marty will use music to bring his parents together and blow some kids minds with rock n’ roll. And here, at minute 59, both of these events are foreshadowed by Marty dressing up as an alien and using Van Halen to convince George that he must ask Lorraine out. Moreover, in this honeymoon sequence, this is the moment where Marty’s creative pursuit of music is married to George’s creative pursuit of Science Fiction. From this connective event on, while George will still very much struggle to embrace Marty’s thematic argument, he has been convinced by it. Plot, theme, and character are all working in perfect harmony. 

But of course, things can’t keep going well forever, so the antithesis of Back To The Future starts to kick back in. At the moment that George finally gathers the nerve to ask Lorraine out, Biff enters and screws the whole thing up. But this is still the Honeymoon Period, so there’s time for Marty to sock Biff, again further foreshadowing our later climax, and for Marty to invent skateboarding. 

However, Marty has not succeeded in getting George and Lorraine to go on a date. In fact, once Doc has set his model time machine on fire, Lorraine reveals she has followed Marty and asks him to ask her to the dance. And you’ll notice, her reason for not asking George is that he isn’t “strong” because he has never stood up to Biff. He is too defined by the antithesis. Things are no longer going well, so, at minute 69, we leave the honeymoon sequence and we enter Sequence VI: the bridge from the honeymoon to the lowpoint. 

And things are sure getting complicated. Marty is now going to the dance with Lorraine, and he is going to have to make a pass at his own mother so that his father can punch him out and win her love. It’s your standard Saturday night really. And whether or not Marty and George can pull it off is the tension of this sequence. But it’s still a pretty crazy plan that nobody can feel too confident about. And then, Marty has to contend with the fact that the next time he sees Doc, he’ll have been shot by Libyan terrorists. And when he tries to warn his friend, the scientist refuses to learn anything about the future. Which is again, an example of an important secondary character now embracing the antithesis. So, Marty puts the info in a letter, writes on the envelope not to open it until 1985, and sneaks it into Doc’s coat pocket. 

And then, it’s time for him to bring his mom to the dance. And Marty now finds that maybe he can’t do ‘anything’ he sets his mind to. And to add to his struggles, it turns out Lorraine is totally happy to sit in a car with a boy, drink, smoke, and get hot and heavy. Fortunately, she finds kissing Marty weird, and immediately loses any amorous feelings towards him. Unfortunately, Biff arrives, and he has whatever the opposite of amorous feelings are for Marty. And you can sense it, right? The sense of peril has shot up, and we’re getting really close to the low point now. Especially as Marty, the embodiment of empowerment is locked in a car boot, and is completely disempowered in the story. And that means it’s down to George, and nobody’s giving great odds on that guy pulling this off without Marty. Of course, it starts off terribly… and yet, when he sees Biff push Lorraine to the ground, his righteous anger empowers him, and he knocks Biff out cold. George has more power in him than he ever realised, and he will never be walked over again. And you’ll notice that in sequence III, George was in danger, and Marty pushed him out of the way. Here, Marty can’t get there in time, but he is no longer needed. George has changed. And this, perhaps counterintuitively, is an exemplary low point. Because, at the low point, the protagonist no longer believes the antithesis, but the thesis — or the thematic argument — seems impossible. Marty has succeeded in his plan of getting his parents together, and George has finally stood up for himself. And yet: Marty and his siblings are still disappearing. Nobody seems to believe that they should settle or accept less than they deserve, but it appears that perhaps they can’t really accomplish anything they set their minds to. Again, the protagonist no longer believes the antithesis, but the thesis seems impossible. Things appear dire, so at that, at minute 81, with 26 minutes left to go, we leave Act II and we enter Act III.

Act III has a false resolution and a true resolution. So, just as he had hoped to do in Act I, Marty finds himself playing guitar at the school dance. But unlike in Act I, he is now desperately watching for his parents to kiss on the dancefloor. And it briefly looks like it might never happen, and Marty begins to fade out of existence. But then, George, a changed man, stands up for himself, and steps back in with Lorraine. At that, Marty’s parents kiss, and Marty’s family is once again restored. [] Though frankly, the way his parents now look at each other, I’m a little surprised he doesn’t have a 4th older sibling. Maybe around 29 years old. For now though, Marty plays one more song as lead guitarist and singer, finally achieving his ambition from sequence I, and inventing Rock n’ Roll in the process. But more importantly, George has won Lorraine over, and Marty has finally accomplished his goal after all. So, at minute 87, with 20 minutes left, it’s time for Back To The Future’s True Resolution. 

And my God, what a 20 minutes of filmmaking. Everything about the clock tower lightning sequence is just so, so exciting. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and that’s the point. The level of precision and difficulty involved makes the accomplishment near impossible. And yet, Marty manages to start a stalling Delorean, Doc manages to zip line down to a broken cable just in time, and Marty somehow hits an exact marker just in time to be hit by lightning and travel back to 1985. [] But of course, this is not the only climactic action taking place in the true resolution. Back in 1955, Doc finds Marty’s letter, tears it up, and refuses to listen to anything about his future. He does not believe that a person should be trusted with that kind of power. But, back in 1985, finally, we discover that Marty has not only changed his father George, but he has influenced Doc Brown as well, who could not help but piece the letter back together. Marty has not only changed the past, but also changed the future. 

And so, Marty returns home, and wakes up to a whole new 1985. Linda now has so many boyfriends that Dave is complaining about being her answering service. And Dave himself is now wearing a suit and working in an office. And this in 1980s America, so that means he’s a winner, damnit! And of course, Lorraine is now much fitter and healthier looking than her previous future-self, and also far more accepting of Jennifer’s supposed directness, while George is the most changed of all: an engaged, uxorious husband and a man of easy-confidence and authority, and soon to be revealed as a successful science fiction author. But that’s all window dressing. What really matters is that Marty got a goddamn 4x4. Which, unfortunately, he never gets to drive, because Doc Brown appears; it turns out his kids need him in the year 2015; and where they’re going, they don’t need roads.


What. A. Movie. Ok, hopefully by now, I’ve painted a pretty convincing picture of what Back To The Future means, and how it goes about meaning it. But what I’d like to do from here is expand that to show how this thematic argument is expanded across the trilogy. In Back To The Future Part I, the thesis is made that if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. But then, you might notice, Back To The Future Part II presents an antithesis to its predecessor’s argument. Back To The Future Part II is all about Marty and Doc facing the consequences of their own recklessness. Marty buys the Sports Almanac, cos he doesn’t see the harm in making a few bucks on the side. And why is it a Sports Almanac? Because it would help Marty gamble, and gambling (at least generally) is not backing yourself, it’s reckless risk-taking. Doc travels through time right in front of Marty’s house, so that middle-aged Biff sees them, and then they both leave the time machine unattended, so that Old Man Biff can steal it. But, most importantly, we see that Marty would literally put his mind to anything, no matter how dangerous or stupid, if someone called him chicken. [] Marty’s inability to walk away from any old idiot who’d try to bait him eventually leads to a series of events that ends with the Delorean getting struck by lightning, Doc being transported back to 1885, and Marty getting stuck in 1955 without a time machine. Marty’s vitality, risk-taking, and self-belief saved the day in Back To The Future, but now his lack of discipline and judgement in when and why to take risks leaves him and Doc stranded in the past. So, we have a thesis and an antithesis in response.  

Finally though, of course, Back To The Future Part III ends in a synthesis of these two arguments. Marty initially takes Doc’s advice to leave him in the Old West, but then takes a risk for the right reasons to go back and try to save his friend when he finds out he dies only days after writing the letter. Finally, after the events of Part III, Marty refuses to be goaded into a fight with Mad Dog Tannen. And as Marty eventually does face Tannen in a shootout, again in order to save Doc Brown, he wears a bulletproof vest. So he is brave enough to take a risk for an important reason, but also careful. It is an argument of greater maturity, learnt from both earlier successes and failures. And there’s one more thing to note here. You could easily describe the Marty of Back To The Future Part I as being all heart. The Doc, especially in Part II is now all brain. He wants to destroy the time machine because it’s too risky. But then, by the end of Back To The Future Part III, after Doc has fallen in love with Clara, it is Marty that tells the scientist to use his head, and Doc responds that he must do what feels right in his heart. They haven’t quite switched places, but rather they’ve learnt each other’s thematic arguments. So Doc chooses Clara over returning to 1985, and then, after spending nearly 2 whole films promising to destroy the time travelling DeLorean because it’s too risky, he builds a time travelling steam train. 

And of course, when Marty faces Mad Dog Tannen in 1885, his signifier of caution is a bulletproof vest. Now, this is a reference to Doc Brown because he wore a bulletproof vest in Part I, but also because Marty’s bullet proof vest is a stove top, and the stove is the tool of the blacksmith: Doc Brown’s 1885 profession. 

So, it is not just Back To The Future Part I that is about the importance of empowerment and belief, the entire trilogy has a Hegelian dialectical structure of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis of Believe in yourself - Don’t be reckless - Be courageous but careful. 

And a quick note, because I find this fascinating: if that sounds familiar, that’s because it is the exact thematic story shape of: Star Wars. A New Hope ends with Luke accepting the advice that he should trust in the force, which is really the advice to trust in himself. But then The Empire Strikes Back is a warning that recklessness can lead to dark and evil places. He even sees a future where he becomes more like his father, rather than the other way around. Any of this sound familiar? Finally, in Return of the Jedi, he must once again brave facing his nemesis. But rather than fight and kill his nemesis, he resists engaging, and wins by marrying his refusal to give up on his father with his refusal to fight his father. He must be courageous but also careful. So, strangely, not only do both of these trilogies make the same thematic argument in the same way, but they both end with the protagonist refusing to fight their nemesis on their nemesis’s terms.

Now, this is not to diminish Back To The Future, or to suggest any element of copying or anything like that. Rather, it’s to make the point that: some things just work! It is no surprise to me that two of the most beloved trilogies in film history are about empowerment. And it’s no surprise to me that writers as good as George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Robert Zemeckis, and Bob Gale, whether intentionally or not, landed on a thesis - antithesis -synthesis structure for the thematic arguments of their trilogies.

But, especially in this filmmaking era that we are in, something might come immediately to mind when I compare Back To The Future with Star Wars, and that is the number of films. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have been crystal clear that there will never be another Back To The Future while they are alive. Again, in that Q&A interview, Bob Gale says: as far as he’s concerned, they have told the stories of their characters. Their arcs are complete. If they were to make another movie, they would have to invent another character arc, and as they would not just repeat the same story, that would mean that they would have to invent another thematic argument. And that would mean that Back To The Future would no longer be about empowerment. And that would mean, it would not be Back To The Future. Back To The Future is not about a DeLorean. Back To The Future is not really about time travel. Back To The Future is not just about a boy who travels back in time to meet his teenage parents. Back To The Future tells us what it’s about. The first film tells us that if we put our minds to it, we can achieve anything. But if you ever wonder what the Back To The Future trilogy is about, all you need to do is listen to the final scene of the final film. []

This has been Mark Overanalyses Film on Back To The Future. I’ll be back soon for Season 5. Until then, I’m off to write my own future. A special thanks as always to Mary Kate O’Flanagan who taught me everything I know about film, including these methods. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and see you soon.