Time Travel In "Back To The Future" ~ Random Waves of Insight
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Friday, January 11, 2008

Time Travel In "Back To The Future"

Marty's life isn't so great. Marty goes back in time. Marty returns to an alternate present, where things are much better.

What I sometimes wonder about when watching movies like "Back To The Future" or "Timecop" is whether or not the people connected to the hero ever notice a change in his behavior. In both films, the lead guy returns to an alternate present and lives happily ever after. However, from the perspective of the secondary characters, they are now living with a different version of the guy they have always known.

So in "Back To The Future," Jennifer's probably the same, but Marty's different. He is now different from the guy she grew up with, the son of an aspiring author, who lived in a nice house and had nice things handed to him. That Marty's attitude must be different from that of the Marty we all know and love.

So today I came up with a theory about what happened to the other Marty. I eventually shot it down myself, but allow me to explain.

At the end of the movie, Marty1 returns home. This Marty had been gallivanting about in the past, making changes to cure his parents of their loserdom. So he's back, and he watches another Marty go back in time. What's the other Marty like? Marty2 is the spoiled Marty, who may or may not be a jerk. For the sake of this theory, we'll call him a jerk.

Now comes a tie-in with another theory that's been around a while, and with which you may already be familiar. Marty2 takes some Plutonium with him. Goes to 1955. Immediately he fuels up and returns, making no other changes. So where does he return to?

This is where my bogus theory gets interesting. Marty2 winds up in the original 1985, where his parents are losers, his house is a shack, and the Doc has been killed by terrorists. So Marty1 gets to live in Marty2's world, and Marty2 gets to live in Marty1's world. They swapped places! If this were to be made into a film, the justification for Marty2 being sentenced to a Hell version of his present would be that he was a jerk (a victim of Spoiled Brat Syndrome).

But I realize that this is not the case. When Marty1 returns to Alternate (and Better) 1985 to see Marty2 leave, he can rest easy knowing there will be no Marty3. It's a loop! Marty1 used to live in a straight line of time, but then he creates a loop, goes through it, and makes it so that Marty2 will go through it in exactly the same way, creating no further universes.

Here's more on that. Marty's original existence goes along in a straight line, left to right. Then at one point, he teleports to a point before he was born. In 1985 he's 17, so he was probably born in 1968. He travels to 1955, so that's 13 years before birth. Then he returns to a little bit before he leaves. In order to prevent having two Marty's permanently, one of them has to leave, and do as the other did. So the younger one who hasn't had a turn in the DeLorean goes back in time just like the older one did, and for whatever reason gets into the same situations and produces the same results. Then he returns to 1985 and sees his younger self leave, who returns to watch his younger self leave, and so on...

But this raises the question of why did Marty2 (who time travels to 1955 at the end of the film) make all the same changes? Did Doc coach him as to how to act, what to do, what kinds of trouble to cause, and how to undo all that? Or did it arise out of chance? My bet is that the universe evened itself out without Doc's interference. If Doc had coached Marty2 to do certain things in 1955, then Marty2 would return to his 1985 saying things like, "It worked," "I ensured the present," and "Doc, I don't know how we pulled it off!", and subsequently lead a different life than Marty1 did in BTTF 2 and 3.

But if you put all this aside, there's still the issue of behavioral changes. If you were Jennifer, and your boyfriend had access to a time machine, there was no guarantee he'd always be the same guy. You might be living in an alternate timeline that he's about to return to, from a point in the past at which he engineered it! But don't worry, he probably won't be that different. Just more appreciative of his family, his new truck, and most of all, you!

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