Robert Zemeckis Back to the Future and Its Division of Futuristic and Past Lives

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Back to the future is an American classic. It is a sci-fi-comedy written and directed by Robert Zemeckis and was premiered in 1985. It is the first part of the Back to the Future series, which is made up of 3 films. The story is set in 1985, in a small town in California, called Hill Valley. The plot follows Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), a seventeen year-old-teenager living in a lower-middle-class family, who aspires to be a musician. He gets a mysterious phone call from his quirky scientist friend Dr. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd) to ask him to go to a location at a very specific time in the middle of the night to help him with something very important related to his secret research. After a number of unfortunate events which includes escaping a terrorist attack, Marty travels back in time to the year of 1955, the year that his parents fell in love. He meets the younger version of his parents and Dr. Emmett Brown (Doc. for short). After messing up the moment where his parents met, he has to do the awkward job of getting his parents together to save his future self from disappearing and he also has to find a way back to the future with the help of Doc. This film has even caught the eye of the American government, as in 2007, they decided to add it to the archives of the National Film Registry.

This essay will illustrate the film’s adoption of conventions used in classical Hollywood cinema, whilst talking about the film’s underlying ideology has typically been considered conservative by examining the part of the film where Marty travels back in time to the old Hill Valley where we see the difference in the two versions of life in the town and the part where he arrives back to the future. The film portrays idealized versions of life in the 1950s and 1980s which really relates to the film’s underlying ideology. The 1950s are shown as a conservative, family oriented, peaceful and as a better time to live in then in contrast to the 1980s before the time travel, where life looks miserable, as we see Marty and his family at the beginning of the film with all of their flaws and problems. They do not seem to be happy at all, while in the 50s, Marty’s mother Lorraine has a happy traditional family with her mother being a normal housewife and father providing for the family. The film is completely character driven, and like most films in classical Hollywood cinema. The film’s narrative is linear which is another classical convention. András Bálint Kovács writes in his book ‘Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980’ that “The difference between classical and modern cinema, Deleuze believes, is to be found in their respective treatment of movement and time. Classical cinema articulates time through movement. It creates an organic system in which perception and action are summed up in a mental quality, which he calls “affection.””

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Marty is also the ideal male character as he is an adventurous, potent man of action. When Marty arrives in the 1955 version of Hill Valley, he is fascinated by the difference. We can feel like we are experiencing it with him, by the use of point-of-view shots of him looking around at signs, which type of shots are typically used a lot in classical Hollywood cinema just like continuity editing. One of the things he sees when arriving is a movie theater showing of ‘Cattle Queen of Montana’ starring Ronald Reagan, who was a Hollywood actor, and then later on the 40th President of the United States of America. Ronald also displayed similar conservative feelings to those that appear in the film like Marty’s favorite motto “If you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything” which basically sums up the American dream in a sentence. In David Bordwell’s Classical Hollywood Cinema: Narrational Principles and Procedures, the Bordwell says that

“The classical Hollywood film presents psychologically defined individuals who struggle, the characters enter into conflict with others or with external circumstances. The story ends with a decisive victory or defeat, a resolution of the problem and a clear achievement or nonachievement of the goals.” In this case, Marty is the one to enter into conflicts however, the film ends with him getting home safely. In the end sequence, Marty wakes up and finds out about the changes his adventure back in time has caused in contrast to the other timeline, but only after leaving his room. We can’t be sure that these events weren’t a dream until then. In Kristin Thompson’s, “Storytelling in the new Hollywood” she writes

“He lies in the same position as he had near the end of the setup before Doc had originally called to remind him of their appointment.”....”at this point, there does seem to be a serious possibility that all the events beginning with that phone call have been a dream;”...“ the decor in Marty’s room has not changed, and he is wearing the same clothes as on the night he went back in time. Only as he discovers his family’s transformation do we receive confirmation that the time-travel action was no dream.”

His dad and Biff’s relationship has completely changed just like how the family’s dynamic and home has completely transformed. He has the car that he wanted, the house is in perfect condition. His mom went from an alcoholic to a happy housewife like Lorainne’s mother in the 50s. In conclusion, Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future is trying to convey a message through Marty’s adventure back in time to show the audience that being conservative is the way to have a better future while using the conventions of classical Hollywood Cinema.

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