Opinion: Back To The Future Imperfect, Or Caught In A Fox Trap

October 22, 2015



The costume designers of Back To The Future II were asked to imagine, from the viewpoint of 1988, how we’d all be dressing in 2015.

As can be expected, they got it hilariously, entertainingly wrong. It’s 27 years later, and we still don’t have self-lacing Nikes or self-drying, size-adjustable jackets, dammit.

The mythology of the movie’s story made it imperative that I watch it again on 21 October 2015 (some clarity on that in a moment). Once the obligatory wry chuckles brought on by the fashion faux-pas had subsided,  it occurred to me what was missing from the 1988 designers’ vision of 2015 fashion:

The hipster.


There’s not a carefully-manicured beard or pair of artfully-scuffed workboots in any single frame of Back To The Future II (except for the beggar rooting through the trash encountered at one point by Michael J Fox).

Who honestly would’ve thought in 1988 that we’d be contending with retro-fashion in 2015? Who in their wildest nightmares could’ve imagined the streets of suburban California almost 30 years in the future crawling with jersey-clad baristas sporting neck tattoos and pince-nez?

The set designers of the Steven Spielberg/ Robert Zemeckis blockbuster Back To The Future franchise had a typically space-age view of the future. In the pre-9/11 1980s, the future still looked bright, cheerful and exhilarating.

No-one thought we’d one day be looking longingly to the past instead.

Certainly not 1988-me.

In 1985, when the first Back To The Future film was released, I was 13 years old. That movie made a big impression on me (not the least because cool young Michael J Fox played electric guitar in it). I was on the cusp of teenage-hood, I was about to finish senior primary school and hit high school… things were bright, cheerful and exhilarating.

The subsequent 30 years have been anything but.

I watched Back To The Future II last night through a pair of 43-year-old eyes and couldn’t help comparing what I once thought my life might have been to what it actually has become now.

I suppose that’s the power of art: our creations remain ageless while we age in relation to them, and the further out we get, the more they remind us of our past selves, our old dreams, our long-disappeared youth. I’m undecided as to whether I’m glad art has that quality: do I want to be reminded of loss, of vanquished innocence, of the decline of things?

Four years after my wonderful encounter with Back To The Future, my slightly-more cynical, darker 17-year-old self watched the sequel, in which the characters from the first movie travel forward in time to Wednesday 21 October 2015. Which is why Back To The Future II has been generating so much social media chatter recently: a worthy anniversary for movie geeks, and a bona-fide national holiday in the US!

The poignancy of looking back on the past from the vantage point of the arrived-at future is not a thing to ignore. I watched the movie last night, and raised a glass to my 17-year-old self. Like the clothing designers of 1988, I couldn’t have imagined then a future not full of shiny, exhilarating things. In the subsequent years, I’ve had a few highlights, and one or two grand things, but it’s mostly been dismal, full of despair and heartbreak. That’s just the way it’s panned out. I know many people my age who feel the same. It might all change tomorrow, but right now? Back To The Future II quietly reminds me of what’s been lost.

And no-one would know what that feels like more than the main actor of the trilogy and a shining light of late-80s Hollywood, Michael J Fox.

A 24-year-old actor full of promise in the 1985 movie, his life has been devastated by Parkinson’s Disease. As miserable as I often feel my life has become, I have no idea of the challenge that man has faced. Comparatively, I have nothing to be unhappy about. He’s undeniably proven to be a heroic, exemplary figure of endurance and positivity, and I for one have much to learn from him.


They inspire us. They remind us. They help us reflect, consider and re-consider. Like all art should.

Back To The Future II couldn’t imagine the possibility of our future selves looking back reverently at a bygone age.

Neither could I.

I didn’t know then that I was living through golden years. I’m thankful for them, and thankful that art can remind me of them when it feels like there’s been nothing good about life for too long.

Long live Marty McFly.

Oh, and by the way, what do we see all over 1990s Back To The Future III?