Posts Tagged ‘Nostalgia’



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.


[1] Oxford Dictionaries defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.”

[2] Collin Hansen:

[3] Ibid.


The word remake seems to be Hollywood’s favorite word as of late.  Typically when we hear this word we are used to timeless classics being dusted off and brought back to the silver screen with a fresh look.  However, with movies like Man of Steel [2013] and The Amazing Spider-Man [2012] coming soon, it proves that even the not-so-old are being remade.  If Hollywood does prequels, sequels or requels [we’re trying to start a new word for remake, your job is to use that in a sentence this week] people often sigh to themselves and say something to the effect of, ‘Hollywood is so unoriginal’.  But here’s the deal.  When the Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-Man come out…I’ll buy a ticket. Unless Jesus comes back prior to their release, I plan to watch both of those films.  So the real question is, who’s unoriginal?  Us or Hollywood?

You see, this may be a fairly obvious statement, but Hollywood doesn’t buy a ticket to go see a movie.  That is, the actors, actresses and filmmakers don’t even visit the local cineplex.  (Side thought: I wonder when Steven Spielberg last purchased a movie ticket and what movie that was?)  The point is, none of those people are keeping Hollywood going, we are.  I understand that Spielberg, Abrams and…even Michael Bay are keeping Hollywood going.  But if we stop purchasing tickets, they stop making films.

Hollywood is just churning out movies we are going to see and they know what type of movies we want to see.  What does this say about us?  The fact that Superman Returns [2006] can come out and bomb at the box office and remake one seven years later, says something about us not Hollywood.  One could apply Proverbs 26:11 to the idea of a Superman remake, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit, is a fool who repeats his folly.” Is Hollywood simply returning to their folly or does that proverb apply more easily to us?

Whether it’s Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night or Superman, we all long to remember yet are prone to forget.  When I say that we long to remember, I mean that we love the feeling nostalgia brings to each of us.  For an older generation, remaking Fright Night or Conan will cause one to return to a former time or bring back a previous emotion we forgot.  This desire for the feel of nostalgia is true of all human beings because of the garden.

The garden was perfect and our first parents, Adam and Eve, experienced it.  Through them, we were all designed for perfection but lost that when we thought we knew better than God.  Therefore, there is a longing to remember those days our first parents experienced in the garden, and nostalgia often gives us false notions of a time that was easier and better than our previous state.

Although we long to remember, we are also prone to forget.  While we love the feeling nostalgia often brings and even desire, at times, to return to those moments, we forget that those times were marred with sin just as the current times are.  While Hollywood wants to create a new fan-base for old films like Night and Conan, there is also something greater they are longing for in these remakes.  We will delve a bit deeper into this thought on tomorrow’s post, so be sure and check back.