Ever since I first saw this article I’ve been composing in my head a post about how this movie may be Marty’s story but it’s George’s arc. He was nervous enough to approach Lorraine in the diner (and yes, I love that moment where she first really sees him and how it’s essential, that moment, because it means there really was something there all along, that she wasn’t just manipulated into falling for George), and that was with a script in hand. Imagine how terrified he must’ve been to throw open that door and see BIFF there? And how easy it would’ve been to go away, not to provoke this bully. Biff is literally telling him “Just go away”—but he doesn’t. His quiet, shaky delivery of “No, Biff. You leave her alone”—his decency nearly reduces me to tears. Like, I feel proud of this completely imaginary character!
And thinking about it some more, not only has the script changed from Marty to Biff being there, from a staged confrontation whose outcome is pre-determined but a very real and terrifying and violent one—Biff is about rape Lorraine—but George has everything to lose from not “just going away,” from making a stand. At the very least he will be beaten up. And that’s what makes his reaction all the more extraordinary—he stands up for Lorraine simply because it’s the right thing to do. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.
And part of me was thinking last night—a major result of Marty’s actions in the past is that his present is much improved. He gets back to the future and finds that his parents are openly loving, openly happy with their lives, the house is nicer, the siblings are more successful (leaving aside the movie’s implicit snobbery and sexism re: the siblings, hey, it was the ‘80s)—but the main thing that drove this was because George in this timeline is a successful novelist. George’s choice to stand up for Lorraine because it’s the right thing to do somehow empowers him to do something with his writing, to pursue this as a vocation. Previously he’d been a writer in secret—now he is unafraid, he’s published, now he is living his truest self, because being a writer is also the kind of guy he is. Which makes me wonder—what if Marty instead of just introducing a new timeline—what if Marty fixed the timeline? Maybe this was meant to be the life George was supposed to be living all along? Maybe Marty was supposed to go back in time?
And I’ve been turning it over in my head and one thing that occurred to me was—okay, in the original timeline, George and Lorraine somehow got together because “Grandpa hit him with a car”? And then they went to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance? We can imagine Biff did not take this lightly, that he was still in the background, making things difficult, but in the original timeline George never stood up to him, never said back off (leaving aside the assumption that it should’ve been George to say back off—again, it’s an ‘80s movie, there’s a lot left unexplored about rape and harassment). So George and Lorraine mature, become adults, and meanwhile there’s this looming presence in their lives—BIFF. Biff, who continues to act as though he’s entitled to George’s intellect, attention. He dents George’s car, he makes the same homework-y demands on George, and George simply does not have the skills to stand up to Biff.
Then Marty is introduced to the timeline—and how much do I FUCKING love that Marty is completely unafraid to stand up to Biff. God, I want to CHEER in the cafeteria when he rears back, about to pop Biff in the face. He is at least a head shorter than Biff!!! I am a small person, I fucking LOVE that small Marty is unafraid. He takes him on on the cafeteria, stopping him from harassing Lorraine because it’s the right thing to do, and then later trips him in the diner and humiliates him with the scooter-turned-skateboard. Someone else on this board called him a hothead—sure, he is that. But he’s also modeling for George how to stand up for yourself.
And what I mean to imply is not so much fatalism, as in, it was “always” meant to be this way. But more—this is the person George always should’ve been. Because this is who George is. And Marty had to unlock that for him.
I swear, this all is more thinking about BTTF than I’ve done in 30 years. But all classic cinema, even pop cinema, is worth revisiting. If it touched us—there’s a reason why. And BTTF is uniquely well-crafted.