Mike O’Toole
Philosophy In Film
Dr. Tish Allen

Determinism in the film “Back To The Future.”

In the film “Back To The Future” teenager Marty McFly has befriended
Doctor Emmet Brown, an eccentric scientist and inventor. Upon his
invention of a deloreon modified to function as a time machine, Doc
Brown summons Marty to assist him in testing the machine. After
seeing that it does indeed work, Doc prepares to make his first
official voyage through time, however before he is able, he is
accosted by terrorists, after which, he reveals to Marty that he
purchased the plutonium which runs the machine by agreeing to build a
bomb for them. With no intention of actually doing this, he created a
fake bomb, and thusly, he has been tracked down to pay for his crime.
In a sea of gunfire, Doc is murdered, after which, Marty has no other
choice but to flee in the time machine vehicle. After accidentally
being transported through time back to 1955, he runs into his teenage
would-be parents, who have yet to meet.
The film explores the concept of determinism, and causality, as,
Martyrs actions in the past, when factored into the present, prove to
create alternate circumstances, and personality traits in those he
interacts with. Indeed, the crux of the film exists when, Marty
incidentally, in the pursuit of who he realizes is his father,
interferes with the event which lead to his parents meeting and
attraction. Originally, as is told by his mother at the beginning of
the film, it was his father, who unbeknownst to her, was acting as a
peeping tom, falling from the tree in front of her house and being hit
with her father’s car that ultimately lead to him being brought into
the house and her falling for him. In this new timeline, seeing that
George, his father, is about to get hit by a car, Marty pushes him out
of the way, without thinking of the causal consequences of his
actions. With this, Marty is the one hit and knocked out by the car.
This subsequently puts his own existence at stake, as his parents
meeting must be ensured for them to ever give birth to him.
From here, Marty must mentor his socially inept father in convincing
him to approach his mother, Lorraine, and simultaneously devoid her
advances toward him, being that, as a result of he being hit with the
car, she has become infatuated with him, rather than George. She
expresses dissatisfaction with his inability to express confidence and
project himself. Additionally, George is regularly harassed by school
bully Biff. In the original timeline, as a result of this teasing, in
the present George is under confident, and still picked on by the
adult Biff. Being that his parents’ first kiss, and what cemented
their relationship commitment, took place at their high school dance,
Marty orchestrates a plan with George, wherein Marty will take
Lorraine to the dance and make advances towards her, wherein George is
to interrupt and protect her. However, what occurs is an interruption
by Biff. While Marty is disposed, Biff attempts to force himself on
Lorraine, only to be confronted by George, who, motivated by Martyrs
support and words of confidence in him, George knocks out Biff in one
punch, and saves Lorraine. The two unite and, on the dance floor,
finally do kiss. With this action introduced, the previously physically affected Martyrs odds of eventual existence in the proper timeline are ensured. After this, his mission is, under the assistance of the Doc Brown of 1955, to find his way back to the present. Though there is no additional plutonium available in the time, the two are able to time the strike of a lightening bolt, which will create enough energy to get Marty home. Before this, Marty mentions the events of the school dance, wherein his father knocks out Biff, noting that he had never stood up to him a day in his life. As Doc had previously noted how disastrous changing the outcome of future events could be, in him being able to return to the same world he knew when he left, Doc is noticeably affected by this, surely realizing that, as determinism states, every event including cognition, behavior and
action, is determined by the chain of prior occurrences. For this chain to be broken, and altered in a certain way, even if general results appear the same, it will have an affect on overall outcome.
Finally Marty attempts to tell Doc that he will be murdered in Marty’s
present, 1985. Though Doc refuses to accept the responsibility of
hearing about the future, Marty slips a note into his coat pocket,
before venturing back to his time.
This idea of determinism holds true in the film, as, as a result of
Martyrs presence in past, the present he returns is different. Based
on his early reception of inspiration by Marty, assertion of
self-confidence, and standing up to Biff, George McFly does not become
a sniveling lackey to Biff, in both a professional and personal
setting, but rather is a take-charge, published author, and Biff plays
the subordinate role, with his personality softened greatly.
Additionally his mother is in great shape and no longer an alcoholic.
Their house is in much better condition, as are Martyrs brother and
sister, who hold high level jobs and have active social lives, in
contrast to before. At the close of the film, having read Martyrs
note, though the same events transpire, Doc is equipped with a bullet
proof vest to save himself.
From a determinist perspective, all our actions and subsequent
decisions shape who we are. If this chain of everflowing results were
to be broken, it is a possibility we would see events transpire such
as those in Back To The Future. If we could change casualty,
subsequently we would change who people become, and the world in which is shaped. In the case of George McFly, he becomes a writer after
Marty encourages him that “If you put your mind to it, you can
accomplish anything.” Prior to this intervention George says that he
writes science fiction, but won’t show it to anyone, for fear of what
they might think. In the original present timeline, Marty does not
even have knowledge of George’s writing efforts, illustrating that he
either gave it up, or still hides his work, due to lack of confidence.
In his timeline which includes Marty in 1955, though George does not
recognize him, it is the coupling of encouragement, and the combined
confidence of overcoming the self-esteem lowering from Biff’s actions
that result in him becoming successful in the new 1985. Finally, this
type of logic illustrates the concept of determinism, as, every cause
incites an effect, which, in unchanging time, accumulates into how
people think, and thusly the society that is crafted. It proves beyond
our ability to change the influence of other causes and effects on us.