WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Eating burritos. Groggy. Just woke up.
In Back to the Future, young Marty McFly winds up in the past and has to convince his teenaged father George McFly to fall in love with/make sex to his mother Lorraine Baines or he won’t exist. Since his dad is such a big fan of science fiction, Marty pretends to be an alien named Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan and threatens to melt George’s brain if he doesn’t ask Lorraine out to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Pretty neat plan, sure, but here’s another little sci-fi yarn I just randomly whipped up: why don’t you tell him that you’re his son from the future and you’ll die if he doesn’t get with Lorraine?
I know that’s a pretty craaazy cover story, Marty, but hear me out on this one!
I’ve previously covered the “What if George and Lorraine knew Marty was their kid?” topic in my very first viewing of the year, back when I used it as a metaphor for abortion (metaphortion?). This time, however, I’m not interested in the parents’ side of this ethical dilemma. No, I want to focus on the sick and twisted puppetmaster pulling the sexual strings of two young teens that just don’t seem to have the hots for each other. Is it Marty’s moral obligation to tell his parents the truth about who he is, or are we all really okay with what would otherwise be a deranged individual using a playbook of lies to coax disinterested people into sexual congress for his own perverse pleasure?
“Hey, about the time I pushed you two together crotch-first…”
Before we get into the topic of human decency, let’s first unpack everything else that sucks about Marty’s original plan. For starters, he was going to bust into his dad’s house in a big scary costume while he was sleeping. Whether George believes in aliens or not, did Marty think his room was completely devoid of large objects? George may be a wimp, but he’s jumpy as hell and will likely chuck the first thing within reach before he even has time to process what’s happening. All it takes is one lamp to the face, boom, Marty’s down, George takes off his helmet, and no matter what Plan B was, George is never going to talk to the weirdo that watches him sleep again.
Oh, also, the part where Marty gropes his own mother when she clearly wants to fuck him.
I bet “lamp to the face” is lookin’ real good right about now.
Yes, the incest-y nature of this plan is pretty icky for Marty, but think about it from Lorraine’s perspective! She is having womanly tingles deep inside for a relative that’s willingly withholding the information that he is, in fact, her relative. Take out the time travel and make him a cousin and holy shit, that guy’s a sicko. And yet, the love story that Marty chooses to re-write for his parents involves mom-fondling (momdling?) and traumatizing his father with the ever-present threat of murder by extraterrestrials. Ah, l’amour.
You might argue that Marty is simply doing whatever it takes to save his own life, but allow me to complicate this article with an unnecessary thought experiment: is a man standing on a land mine alive or dead? Most would agree that he’s alive, but his death is extremely likely, just like an unbirthified Marty McFly. Now, let’s say this man… we’ll call him Marty McLandmine… sees a stranger in the distance. He’s afraid the stranger will run away if he knows the truth, so Marty McLandmine shouts for him to come over and do him a favor. Marty McLandmine explains to the stranger that he would really like to park his car in this exact spot, but he’s afraid that if he walks away, somebody will take it. He asks the stranger to stand there for just five minutes while he goes and gets his car. Marty McLandmine drives back, takes great caution to park the car exactly where the stranger is standing, and even gives him some money for his troubles. Marty McLandmine then calls the bomb squad and has them defuse the mine. Hooray! Nobody was hurt and the stranger’s life turned out even better than before… but could you in any way claim that what Marty McLandmine did was ethical? Of course not! His only scrupulous choice is to scream for help and fully admit that he is standing on a land mine to anyone that answers the call. If a hundred strangers run away without helping, that’s their problem, not Marty McLandmine’s. When he finally runs out of options, he can at least accept his explosive fate with a clean conscience.
“Ironically, nothing was heavy enough.” *KA-BOOM*
So, Marty’s status as a temporal ghost in a fluctuating state of existence doesn’t excuse his behavior, but one could claim that this particular time travel situation requires him to preserve the original events of history as much as he can. Well… sorry, mutable timelines just don’t work that way, and Back to the Future definitely operates on a mutable timeline. (What’s a mutable timeline? Oh, boy, I’m sorry to open this giant can of nerd again.) The instant Marty changes the future, he’s damn lucky to still exist, represented by the following graphic:
Basically, fessing up and telling his parents the truth is every bit as much of a crap shoot as playing Oedipus the Space Invader. And even if Marty doesn’t grasp this concept, Doc seems to. He immediately orders Marty to lay low and try not to affect history, but as soon as the picture of his siblings starts fading, they suit up and hit Hill Valley High School to flail their way through the awkward world of the teen mating ritual, because Doc knows Marty’s pretty much fucked by now anyway.
Or is that “unfucked”?
So, the clear moral choice for Marty is to come clean with George and Lorraine and cross his fingers for some astronomical good luck. So why doesn’t he? One simple reason: comedy. If we go back to the land mine scenario that I’ve put forth and imagine it with the right comedic actors, that has the potential to be a veritable hoot. It probably helps if the stranger is a cheerful do-gooder type and Marty McLandmine is a total bastard, but hey, comedy math sucks, so let’s leave it at that. Basically, Marty’s plan is a classic comedy of errors, centered around a likable protagonist that makes dickish decisions when he’s stressed. I guess. Hmm.
Well, he always has the option to tell Mom and Dad once he’s back in 1985!
That or stare silently each day at an artist’s rendering of his secret shame.