Posts Tagged ‘Back to the Future’

I recently had the opportunity to attend a special event at a local movie theater—a Back to the Future Quote-Along. Since I wrote on Back to the Future not too long ago here at Reel Thinking, that’s not what I want to do with this post.[1] Instead, I want to focus on the event itself (the quote-along), drawing out some observations about cinema’s ability to create a sort of community and, thus, a communal viewing experience.
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My wife and I, along with a couple of friends, packed into a crowded theater on a Saturday night, eager to watch—for the umpteenth time—Robert Zemeckis’ time-travel classic. On our way in, we were instructed to stop by a booth and get props for the screening (see picture). We each grabbed a glow stick, a scratch-and-sniff card, a “save the clock tower” flyer, and a miniature skateboard. Before the movie started, an emcee made his way to the front of the theater to explain the rules of the game. “This is an interactive experience,” he told us; “wave your glow sticks when the DeLorean hits 88 miles per hour.” Holding up the clock tower flyer as an example, he instructed us to do likewise every time Marty was asked to give money to save the clock tower. The scratch-and-sniff cards should be ceremonially scratched and sniffed at appropriate times throughout the films; smells will correspond to what is shown on screen. When Marty rides around town on his skateboard, we could perform tricks with our miniaturized versions. Then, having explained the proper use of the props, our host told us how the quoting would work. At various times, words would appear on the screen, karaoke style, telling us when to quote and what to say. “Don’t you dare say the lines early and ruin the experience for every one else,” he warned, “and enjoy the Back to the Future!” The show began, amid scattered cheers throughout the crowd.

It was one of the most lively times of movie-watching I’ve ever experienced. Laughter was abundant. We waived our glow sticks with fervor, and jovially exclaimed, “Great Scott!” along with Dr. Emmet Brown; clock tower flyers were hoisted in the air. The scratch-and-sniff cards provided us with some pleasant (and some unpleasant) smells to enhance our viewing experience. We cheered when George McFly finally stands up to Biff, delivering the knockout blow. We quoted, and quoted, and quoted. Sometimes we even quoted things that didn’t appear on the screen in karaoke text. It was undeniably geeky … and a lot of fun.

A few days after the fact, I thought about the event and was struck by a lingering, persistent question: Why? Why did a room full of people pay to go see a movie they can buy—or rent for even less money? I own the entire trilogy on Blu-ray and can quote the entire first movie in the comfort of my living room; so why was I excited to go see it in theaters? Why did a bunch of allegedly sane adults wave glowing sticks in the air to cheer on a car in a Hollywood movie? Well, I think the answer can be encapsulated in a single word: community. [2]

In short, we all packed into that crowded theater that night because we really, really like Back to the Future, and we wanted to see it with others who feel the same way. We wanted the community experience that the quote-along promised to provide. We were—if only for two short hours—a part of a vibrant and enthusiastic community. Every quote spoken, every glow stick raised served as a reminder that we were part of something bigger than ourselves, while simultaneously uniting us around a shared goal—the desire to (dare I say) fellowship with others in watching, a testimony to our common humanity. This language is hopefully familiar to Christian readers, for we are united in the crucified and resurrected God-man. United as a church, we proclaim our Lord’s death in the taking of the sacraments. And in His amazing and mysterious world, something as simple as a night at the movies can remind us that we were created for relationship.


  1. I will, however, talk about the movie as if you have seen it. If you haven’t, you truly must see it soon.  ↩
  2. In truth, there is a multiplicity of ways in which we can approach this question. I am not saying that the need for community is the only reason that people go to special events like quote-alongs. I maintain, however, that the claims presented herein are applicable—on some level—to the majority of spectators.  ↩
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back-to-the-futureI was introduced to Back to the Future when I was about nine or ten years old. I loved that movie; and for a two or three month stretch, I watched it at least once a week. It is no surprise, then, that Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite films, with my appreciation of it increasing over the years. Incredibly intricate, yet virtually free of plot holes, Back to the Future—thanks to Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale—boasts one of the best screenplays ever written. Simply put, it is the Hollywood style narrative at its best. These stylistic and formal elements deserve to be written about, but that is not what I’m going to do in this post; nor am I going to discuss time travel, our desire to change the past, and the sovereignty of God (Brian Sorgenfrei has already written an excellent post on the latter topic, and I recommend it to you). Instead, I am going to briefly analyze the use of nostalgia in Back to the Future[1]. One of the many ways in which this film succeeds is in its ability to show the shortcomings and short-sightedness of an overly nostalgic worldview.

For a 90s kid watching an 80s movie centered in the 50s, Back to the Future is a quintessentially nostalgic experience. The film, for me, sparked an interest in all things Untitled 21950s—in soda shops, Coke in a bottle, classic cars, Chuck Berry, and like things. Of course, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wouldn’t have it any other way; they intended to invoke nostalgic feelings in the viewer. In the first act we are introduced to an old courthouse that houses a broken clock, which, as the lady from the Hill Valley Preservation Society tells Marty, is an important piece of history. It’s a reminder of the way things were back in the good ol’days. In addition, Marty’s mom, Lorraine, bemoans the state of the dating culture: “I think it’s terrible! Girls chasing boys. When I was your age I never chased a boy or called a boy or sat in a parked car with a Untitled 3boy.”All of this nostalgic reminiscing is contrasted with the Mayor’s initiative to replace the clock tower—erasing part of the town’s history—and the run-down Hill Valley High School, with its graffiti-stained exterior. According to the older characters in the film, things just aren’t the same anymore. There once was a time when everyone was an upstanding citizen, when the world was right; but now, it’s 1985, and everything has changed so much.

Untitled 4What follows is a series of brilliantly executed cinematic reversals in which Zemeckis and Gale overturn and destroy all of the nostalgic notions of the past that they worked so hard to establish in the first act. Marty learns that he and his dad both struggle with a fear of rejection. He learns that his ostensibly moralistic mother liked to drink and smoke in high school; and he is forced to face reality when his 1955 mother proudly declares, “it’s not like I’ve never parked before.”By spending a week in the past, Marty McFly realizes that although the times may have changed, the problems are fundamentally the same. He has a lot more in common with his parents than he cares to admit. In the end, it turns out that the past wasn’t as glorious as it was made out to be. The 1950s nostalgia was nothing more than a facade. Back to the Future does indeed give us a somewhat idyllic and romanticized version of the past—especially at first; but it Untitled 5does not stop there. Back to the Future takes us beyond nostalgia to a place where we can learn from the past.

I do not mean to imply in my analysis that society is incapable of decaying or getting worse; for clearly that is not the case. My point is not to encourage Reel Thinking readers to avoid reminiscing and purge all happy memories of the past. Collin Hansen is absolutely correct when he says that “[r]emembering the past is good and biblical.[2]”In other words, as Christians, we should think about the past. The life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are historical events. The problem is not the past itself, but having an overly nostalgic conception of it. Consider Collin Hansen’s admonition:

[N]ostalgia is the enemy of faith. By lamenting the good ‘ole days, nostalgia tempts us to forsake the present day as beyond the scope of God’s redemption, out of reach from his intervention[3].

Don’t be like Lorraine, always touting the supremacy of bygone eras. Let us learn from brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us; let us learn not only from their successes but also from their sins and failures. This is exactly what Paul exhorts the church at Corinth to do. Yes, he points out that the Israelites “drank from the spiritual Rock [Christ],”but he also mentions that “God was not pleased”with many of them (1 Cor. 10:4,5). “[T]hese things,”Paul says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did”(10:6). We must remember the past and think about it. We should acknowledge our heroes of the faith, but not idolize them. Let us learn from the successes and shortcomings of the “cloud of witnesses”(Hebrews 12:1). Back to the Future is just a small reminder that getting stuck in the past can be dangerous business.

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[1] Oxford Dictionaries defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.”http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nostalgia?q=nostalgia

[2] Collin Hansen: http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/nostalgia-is-the-enemy-of-faith-learn-from-your-heroes-warts

[3] Ibid.

Since there aren’t any good movies being released this weekend and Iron Man 3 is coming out next weekend, we figured we’d discuss which 3rd film is the best.  Go ahead and take your pick from the list below or add a film we left off (there are plenty more).

I love the Back to the Future film series. Ever since I first witnessed Michael J. Fox jump head first into a DeLorean (check out a great tribute to the 80s here), time travel has intrigued me. Yes, I know that many of you have given up on the concept of time travel because of the way that LOST ended…but I ask you to press on. Time traveling stories are here to stay (until we travel back in time and change that).

Today, the newest time travel thriller, Looper, hits theaters. It looks like a mind-bending, action-packed, hit…but time will tell (okay, that was bad).

As I watched the trailer (below) and perused the internet info on this new film, I was intrigued all the more. The tag line for Looper is this: “Face your future. Fight your past.” At first glance, this is merely a good synopsis of the film plot – guy from the past fights his future self in the present. Of course, a good tag lines hints at more. I can’t wait to see what writer/director Rian Johnson has in store.

The tag line got me thinking. The past and future can be frightening and exciting at the same time. Some people spend their lives trying to forget the past while others want to relive the “glory days.” For some the future is “bright,” but for others, the unknown produces anxiety.

Isn’t this one of the reasons why time travel is so intriguing? If it were possible, the ability to travel through time would allow us to retain a level of control. We could go back and clean up our past or head in to the future to check our progress. Sound nice, doesn’t it? Maybe? If the many stories about time travel are any indicator, I am guessing that it would be a train wreck.

There is good news for those who belong to Jesus Christ…We need not fear these things! We need not grasp at new technologies to fix our past lives or prevent future problems from happening. We have been saved by a eternal, sovereign God who created the world and “inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). While he is not confined to time and space, he is not distant. He has also entered into relationship with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man (Colossians 1:15-20).

Jesus Christ has fought our past, present and future sin by taking our place on the cross (Colossians 1:21-23). In his death and resurrection he has made the way for us to face our future with confidence. You see, in Christ there is no need for time travel. We do not need to worry about the past or fret the future. Christians know how the story ends…and this “spoiler” is awesome!

[18] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
[26] Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [28] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

(Romans 8:18-30 ESV)

Never has an old, beat-up Delorean been cooler than in the hands of Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy. The movie(s) success is due to numerous factors.  A young Michael J. Fox speeding along on a skateboard enhanced his heartthrob image.  The acting is solid with Christopher Lloyd, playing the crazy but loveable mad scientist known as “Doc,” and the dialogue between the characters is wrought with comedic flair.   Due to the time travel aspect, the older audience was able to relive their childhood as Marty Mcfly zooms back to the 50’s.  But as with most successful movies, the real success is due to the over-arching story and concept.  The mass appeal of Back to the Future is found in the always-appealing aspect of time travel.   The concept of time travel enflames our imagination with “What-if’s.”

What if I really could travel back in time and change some of my decisions? What if I really could travel into the future and see my life 30 years from now?  Time travel, while being an endlessly fun and fascinating concept, also taps into something deep within all of us.  It appeals to something within our hearts, something that has been there almost as long as the world has existed.

The “possibility” of time travel (especially in a Delorean) is so seductive and always will be on this side of glory because it taps into the age-old temptation presented back in the Garden of Eden.  Satan brings the final hook of temptation to Eve when he deceitfully says, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it (the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God…”  Satan gave Eve the final blow when he suggested there was a way for her to no longer be “just” a finite, dependent creature, but instead God-like.

There is of course nothing inherently wrong with the fun concept of time travel.  However, much of the appeal is because it opens the possibility to be more “like God.”  It tempts us to break the first commandment, and be unsatisfied as dependent creatures.  It offers the possibility of being our own, self-sufficient and independently wise god.

I have many conversations with college students and often what paralyzes them is their inability to change the past or the inability to know the future.  In other words, they have a hard time resting in God’s knowledge and wisdom.  We all think our lives would be so much better, and that real life and satisfaction would come if I could only change my past with better decisions or have a certain measure of clarity regarding my future.   We all want to be able to say with Marty Mcfly “history is going to change.”

But the Bible reveals that the root of this kind of thinking is sin.  It is sin, because it is unbelief in God, His power, and His Wisdom in running His world.  How often do we end up resisting and resenting the limits God has wisely put upon humanity and instead rebel by saying, “I would rather have no limits and be God?”

How many of us would rather have a flux capacitor at our finger tips so that we could go back in time and change our foolish decisions, or avoid some of the trials that came into our lives?  The possibility of “fixing” our lives by erasing a shameful past is alluring.  Deep within the deceitful heart of man is the idea that I could do life better, make life better if given the chance to repeat history.  Deep within the deceitful heart of man is the belief that God’s wisdom does not reign over our past.  Yet, thankfully, over and over the Bible attests to the infinite Wisdom of God and says that all the days of man’s life have already been written by Him(Psalm 139:16).  He is running this world, and all events are happening to bring about praise to Jesus Christ and the building of His church (Eph. 1:11, 22-23).  I’m sure Joseph by Genesis 40 was wishing for a time machine. While in prison in Egypt, he must have been thinking…If only I had not been sinfully arrogant to my brothers, if only they had not sold me into slavery, if only Potipher would believe me and not his crooked wife…if only…”  Yet, God was ceaselessly at work.  By Genesis 50, Joseph realizes that there was a bigger story going on, and that God in his infinite wisdom was using suffering and even his own failures to ultimately heal his brokenness and save his own family.  Joseph’s confession to his brothers pushes back the unbelief in God’s wisdom and joyfully receives the limits of his finiteness.  He says (in contrast to Eve) “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but god meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today…”

What we now know is even better than what Joseph knew.   In what seems like foolishness to man, God’s wisdom would be put on display has He takes on flesh and walks this earth for 33 years.  And that life ends in a crucifixion on a Roman cross outside the city.  Yet the cry of Jesus, far from it being a cry of defeat, in utter irony, he shouts out a cry of victory and accomplishment.  He cries out, “It is finished.”  And Jesus accomplishes something on the cross that no amount of man’s doing will ever accomplish.  He takes the penalty and the shame for all the past, present and future foolishness and sin of His people.  For all those who finally quit trying to “make up” for past failures and receive the death of Jesus Christ, the Scripture says he is a new creation and now free from the slavery of the past.   The way to be free from a shameful past is not found in going back in time and re-doing life, but in the One who takes the full penalty of sin upon Himself, and declares us clean in His sight.  The immense mercy of God that has covered all sin is one of the things that ushers forth eternal praise in glory (Rev. 5:12).  Think about it, He is a God, who works no apart from our sin, but even through it to bring about love and praise.  He indeed is wise.  He is a God you can trust with your past, present and future.  Seeing the love and wisdom of God should make us joyfully say with Joseph “Am I in the place of God?”

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Rev. Brian Sorgenfrei was born and raised in Jackson, MS, and attended Ole Miss from ’99-’03. After graduation, Brian worked for two years with RUF as an intern at Auburn.  He married Liza Thompson in the summer of 2005 and moved to Jackson to attend Reformed Theological Seminary.  While in seminary, he worked with college students at First Presbyterian Church and Millsaps College. Their daughter, Shelby, was born in Jackson during the fall of 2008.  After graduating in the spring of 2009, Brian and Liza moved to Starkville, MS to work with RUF at Mississippi State University.  Their second daughter, Annie, was born in October of 2010.

Yesterday we looked at John & Josh Kwasny’s top 10 trilogies, and today we will see the sequel of that list by Emilio and John.  This list was inspired by the recent Batman franchise, which may prove to be one of the best movie trilogies in quite some time.  Hope you enjoy our Reel Lists, please compose your own and share them with the readership at Reel Thinking.

John’s Top 10:

  1. Star Wars IV-VI
  2. The Lord of the Rings
  3. Indiana Jones (Kingdom of the Crystal what?  Never heard of it…)
  4. Toy Story
  5. The Bourne films
  6. Back to the Future (The second one almost ruined it, but the third made up for it.)
  7. The Godfather
  8. Aliens
  9. Die Hard (1, 3 & 4..not 2)
  10. Batman (Christopher Nolan’s)

Emilio’s Top 10:

  1. Lord of the Rings
  2. Nolan’s Batman (I know, one is still to be seen. I have no doubts, however. )
  3. Original Star Wars
  4. Toy Story
  5. Can I consider Iron man 1, 2 and Avengers as a trilogy? Just did.
  6. Indiana Jones 1-3
  7. Godfather
  8. Mission Impossible 1, 3 and 4. (Number two apparently never happened.)
  9. Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13
  10. Bourne trilogy (Rare case of the third being better than the second which is better than the first.)

Because The Dark Knight Rises could complete one of the best movie trilogies in quite some time, we wanted to compose a series of posts on trilogies which is a part of our Reel List series.   We will have three different lists released – Top 10 Trilogies, Top 10 Why Oh Why Did You Make a Sequel?, and the Top 10 Why Oh Why Didn’t You Make a Sequel?  Today we have Josh and John Kwasny’s Top 10 Trilogies and tomorrow we will have Emilio and John P’s list.  Please let us know what trilogies you feel strongly about.

John Kwasny’s Top 10:

  1. Back to the Future
  2. The Bourne Trilogy
  3. The Godfather
  4. The Lord of the Rings
  5. Indiana Jones 1-3
  6. Star Wars (original trilogy)
  7. Toy Story
  8. Mission Impossible 1-3
  9. Die Hard 1-3
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3 (but love 4 too)

Josh Kwasny’s Top 10:

  1. Lord of the Rings
  2. Rocky
  3. Back to the Future
  4. Godfather
  5. Indiana Jones
  6. Bourne
  7. Star Wars (4-6 original)
  8. Oceans 11-13
  9. Mission Impossible
  10. Toy Story

John’s Top 10:

  1. Star Wars IV-VI
  2. The Lord of the Rings
  3. Indiana Jones (Kingdom of the Crystal what?  Never heard of it…)
  4. Toy Story
  5. The Bourne films
  6. Back to the Future (The second one almost ruined it, but the third made up for it.)
  7. The Godfather
  8. Aliens
  9. Die Hard (1, 3 & 4..not 2)
  10. Batman (Christopher Nolan’s)

Emilio’s Top 10:

  1. Lord of the Rings
  2. Nolan’s Batman (I know, one is still to be seen. I have no doubts, however. )
  3. Original Star Wars
  4. Toy Story
  5. Can I consider Iron man 1, 2 and Avengers as a trilogy? Just did.
  6. Indiana Jones 1-3
  7. Godfather
  8. Mission Impossible 1, 3 and 4. (Number two apparently never happened.)
  9. Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13
  10. Bourne trilogy (Rare case of the third being better than the second which is better than the first.)