The plot holes and paradoxes of the Back To The Future trilogy
The Back To The Future trilogy, much though we love it, has an abundance of paradoxes, plot holes and remaining questions. Can you resolve any of these…?
Published on Oct 25, 2010
I have to declare from the off: I love the Back To The Future films. Utterly, utterly love them. That’s what left me in two minds about writing this piece, as there’s genuinely nothing I’d change about them. The scripts are tight, the films are exciting, the characters brilliant. What’s not to like?
But there are little plot holes and questions. And it’s in the spirit of appreciation of the films, rather than being a party pooper, that I present the unanswered questions of the Back To The Future trilogy (with any answers I can scramble together). Not one of these points dampens my enjoyment of the films in any way. But they sure did get me thinking…
George and Lorraine would recognise their son
For this one, I tip my hat to the terrific stand-up comedian Ed Byrne, who actually raised this point as part of one of his earlier tours.
The conundrum is this: you tend to remember the people who brought you together in life. You’d certainly remember the person who played Johnny B Goode in such dramatic fashion at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance. And, given that Lorraine had such a crush on Marty in 1955, she’s unlikely to have forgotten him altogether.
So then, why, when Marty gets back to 1985, do George or Lorraine seem to have no recognition of his pivotal part in their lives? Wouldn’t, when Marty gets to the age of 13 or 14, one of them think that something a bit odd was happening, in that they’ve managed to breed someone who looks exactly like the person who brought them together all those years ago?
Even appreciating that they didn’t know ‘Calvin Klein’ for long, his impact upon them was such that they’d still have an idea what he looks like, many years later.
You can find Ed’s DVD where he talks about this right here.
There Are Two Deloreans In 1885
I’d never even considered this until Den Of Geek reader ‘HarrisonFord’ (we assume he’s the real one) raised it in our discussion of Back To The Future Part III last week. And it’s this: there has to be two time machines in 1885.
Much of the third film is spent trying to find new ways to get the Delorean that Marty travelled back from 1955 in up to 88mph. But what about the time machine that Doc got sent in, when it was struck by lightning at the end of Back To The Future Part II? That’s the one that he stores in a cave for 70 years (although it’s still damaged, to be fair, as the Doc sends instructions forward in time). And given that it’s established that we can have two Docs and two Martys at the same point in time, why can’t we have two cars?
Now, there’s some argument as to whether Doc has either drained the car of fluid, or left it with a full tank of fuel. Either way, there’s surely something of use in the second car.
Of course, there are arguments why that car can’t be touched. Firstly, there’s the old paradox rule that would destroy the universe, although by the third film, the Doc is getting far more liberal with the laws of time. And secondly, if the alternative car was used, then Marty – are you following this? – wouldn’t have been able to get back to 1885 in the first place. Because if it was fundamentally tampered with or used, that’d make it either redundant of non-existent in 1955. Which would, of course, create a paradox to bring down the universe, as you well know.
Couldn’t the Doc make gasoline?
In 1885, the big problem Marty and the Doc face is that they can’t get hold of gasoline. However, the Doc at this stage has the knowledge of how he made the time machine, and he’s also managed to put together a nifty contraption to make an ice cube.
Couldn’t he, in theory, track down where kerosene (which was available in 1885) was being refined, and make some gasoline from the by-product of that process?
The Doc Would Know He’s Going To Die
Let’s get ultra-nerdy, then. With a tip of the hat to Den Of Geek reader Nocturne, at the very point that the Doc and Marty uncover, in 1985, that 1885 Doc has been killed by Buford Tannen, that should have stopped Back To The Future Part III dead. After all, the sole reason Marty goes back to 1885 is to save the Doc.
So,why would it have killed the film? Well, at the start of Back To The Future Part III, we see the 1955 Doc, who is the younger version of the character. The Doc who got sent back to 1885 is the older one. Thus, at the point the younger Doc discovered the information, the older Doc, by logic, would instantly know it.
Hence, if he had any sense, the Doc would, at the very least, pay Buford Tannen the $80, and avoid getting shot. Granted, that’d make for a much shorter film, but surely it’s the logical thing to do?
There are further ramifications, too. He would know about Clara before Marty showed him the cutting he took back to 1885. Yet,he’s never heard of her when he sees her name for the first time. Surely he should?
It might, of course, all create another alternative timeline, which in turn would have further consequences. But would that affect the older Doc, as seen in 1885, anyway?
Could The Doc Leave A Longer Note?
Once the Doc discovered that the time machine Marty brought back to 1885 was damaged, couldn’t he have changed the note that he left with Western Union to simply request that Marty brought a bit of fuel and a few parts with him?
Because even accepting that the Doc didn’t want Marty to come back to 1885, by the time he’s there, then – and granted, we’re at risk of another paradox here – couldn’t he just have left a message somewhere to be discovered in 1955 that could have fixed things in a jiffy?
There is precedent for this. Marty writes Doc a letter in the first Back To The Future film, which ultimately saves his life when he’s gunned down by the Libyans. Thus, it’s a strategy that would also, surely, work if a letter was sent from 1885?
Would Marty and Jennifer exist in 2015?
At the point that Marty and Jennifer step into the Delorean at the end of the first film and head off to 2015 to do something about their kids, how can there still be kids there to find? Because, as far as the strict laws of the timelines go, if Marty and Jennifer disappear, even temporarily from 1985, then events in the future would change until they return. As such, the future Marty and Jennifer shouldn’t be there, and nor should their Michael J Fox-alike offspring.
The counter-argument is that it’s assumed they’ll come back to 1985 with everything sorted, and thus if events take their course, all would be the same. After all, pictures from photographs in the movie take time to disappear. And Marty’s hand only starts to disappear in the first film when events are going very badly wrong.
However, think back to the first film. Einstein gets sent one minute into the future. For that minute? He doesn’t exist in 1985, until he returns. Thus, the rule is established there, and if it’s followed, then the McFly brood would not exist in 2015.
Does your head hurt yet?
Why does Jennifer look shocked when she meets herself in 2015?
Again, it’s picky, but there’s a point in Back To The Future Part II when older Jennifer meets younger Jennifer. Yet, surely older Jennifer would know that younger Jennifer was in the house? And surely, therefore, she would be expecting her to be?
Take the argument further, and older Marty would know what was coming, too.
How Could The Doc Have Invented The Time Machine?
In Back To The Future Part II, when Marty and Doc have travelled back to the alternative 1985, we learn that the Doc has been committed several years before.
However, that presents a problem. If the Doc is committed before he gets a chance to invent the time machine, then surely it isn’t just people in pictures that should be disappearing. At the point in 2015, when old Biff takes the Delorean and gives the Almanac to young Biff, then surely the time machine should cease to exist, leaving – at best – Marty and Doc stranded in 2015?
The get-out clause here is that it takes time for changes to feed along the time lines. But even so…
At the start of Back To The Future Part III, there’s no sign of a bear in a cave when Marty parks the time machine in it. There doesn’t even appear to be sufficient depth to said opening to hold a bear. And yet, one appears. It’s like a magic bear. Just saying.
Why Steal The Almanac Back In 1955?
The tight time constraints that Marty and the Doc put themselves under sometimes do make mockery of the fact that they have a time machine at their disposal. Why, then, do they try and get the almanac at the point where it’s given to Biff? Given that he doesn’t place any bets, nor presumably appreciate its value for several years afterwards, why not go back in 1956 or 1957, perhaps when he’s at school/work/shouting at people in the street, and take it then?
There is a solid counter-argument here. The point in 1955 they go back to is the only one where the Doc and Marty know exactly where the book will be, namely, at the point old Biff gives it to new Biff.
Also, Biff is specifically told to put it in a safe somewhere, and assuming – let’s give him the benefit of the doubt here – that he does so, that’s going to make it tricky to get. Although for the Doc, you’d suspect, not impossible…
Just Call Marty “Chicken” At Key Moments
So potent is the narrative device of getting Marty McFly to do illogical things, merely because someone called him chicken, and so aware are the characters around him of it, that surely just a line or two in the right place would keep him out of trouble? After all, Marty is shown to even commit a crime when someone says chicken, so less ambitious challenges must also be surmountable.
Thus, why doesn’t Seamus McFly offer Marty the chance to do a bit of hunting with him, instead of agreeing to a shoot-out with Buford Tannen? Because Marty said no? Ah, how about calling him “yellow”? That should do the trick, or at the very least create some kind of chicken paradox in Marty’s head.
Heck, why doesn’t Lorraine call him chicken for not cracking on with his music career? Or call him a chicken for not being a chicken?
My head hurts.
If you want to have a stab at answering any of those above in the comments, or have fresh questions, then add them to the comments.
And again, all of this is very much in the spirit of loving the films, rather than switching to pedantic killjoy mode!
The Back To The Future trilogy arrives on Blu-ray today.