Log Line

A 1980s teenager accidentally thrust 30 years into the past must attempt to return to his proper time and place—and repair the potential damage resulting from his appearance in the past.


Medium: Film

Writer(s): Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

Director(s): Robert Zemeckis

Production Co.(s): Universal Pictures; Amblin Entertainment

In Back to the Future, high-school student Marty McFly befriends a slightly mad scientist, Doc Brown, and is accidentally thrust 30 years into the past by means of the scientist's time machine, which happens to take the form of a modified DeLorean sports car. When Marty finds himself displaced into the world of his home town, circa 1955, he sets his sights on returning to his own place and time.

Marty's journey in the film is one of attempting to return to the world he knows. Consequently, he is a regain character whose primary intent is to regain his proper place in time. His location in the world of 1985 is the condition of value that existed (for him) at one time but was lost or taken away.

In this respect, Back to the Future shares at least one aspect of its soul with the film, The Wizard of Oz. Both are regain stories in which a teenager has been displaced from his or her proper place and must struggle to return "home."

As with any other well-told story, the film is filled with scenes involving all three vectors of intent—for example, when Marty seeks out and enlists the aid of the 30-years-younger Doc Brown (thereby gaining an ally) and when he uses his skateboarding skills to avoid capture (keeping himself safe from harm) by Biff Tannen, the bully who serves as his primary opposing character in 1955. But his fundamental intent is to regain his place in the world with which he is familiar, and that is the vector of intent that informs and drives the story.

Of course, complications arise in his quest, the most significant of which centers around his accidental disruption of the potential relationship between the couple who would grow up to become his parents. Having quite possibly nixed their relationship before it even gets off the ground, he has inadvertently created the prospect that they will never fall in love and that, as a result, he and his two siblings will never be born.

Consequently, in addition to attempting to regain his place in the world of 1985, he must attempt to repair (regain the health of) their potential for a relationship. In this regard, both of his major actions in the story—to return to his time and to repair the relationship—are regain actions with a single goal... to return to the world as he knows it (his condition of value).

The desire to return to one's home is a powerful and universal drive in human beings, and the storytellers address it directly in the film, taking the implicit position that it stands as the foundation of an advisable endeavor. Consequently, we-the-audience are prone to hope for Marty's success in the attempt, and the proposition of the story can be stated as:

  • One should attempt to restore (regain) the proper arrangement and functioning of his world when it is upset by forces beyond his control, because success in the attempt will restore balance to his life and the world.

Which is similar to the proposition for The Wizard of Oz and illustrates the hidden commonalities between seemingly disparate stories that come to light when viewed in the context of the grok approach.

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