Back to Back to the Future: A Tale of Two Martys

bttf Trilogy

Most of you know of my Bill Murray fetish (sadomurrochism), but you may not know about my Back to the Future obsession.

I spend way too much time thinking about Back to the Future paradoxes and working on my BTTF fan fiction (about the misadventures of Einstein the dog and the pine tree Marty ran over). I think about Back to the Future the way sane people think about their children or politics or sports. I spend most of my time staring off into sunsets with visions of DeLoreans and Sports Almanacs dancing though my head.

But, anyway, before we get into too much, here's what you should know…

The Basics: Time Travel 101

There are basically two types of time travel: static time travel and fluid time travel. Every time travel movie or book, probably works around one of these. Static time is unchangeable, so what is supposed to happen will happen and there’s nothing the time traveler can do about it. Destiny often plays a huge roll in this type. Fluid time travel means anything can change anything, butterflies and whatnots and Nazis taking over the world. The timeline in the Back to the Future franchise is fluid; every change creates a new parallel timeline. Back to the Future II is based entirely on this premise (and hoverboards). The world and all its inhabitants got erased except for any time travelers; Hill Valley turned into biker Las Vegas and Biff transformed into Donald Trump (but a little classier). And presumably because of the flux capacitor, plutonium, things which are heavy, or science!, Marty, Doc, and Jennifer’s memories remain unaffected by these radical shifts in the fabric of reality. But it’s okay because time is so fluid—it’s positively dripping—that all this could be changed back with no ill effects. They even leave Jennifer in an alternative 1985 and don’t pick her up again until Back to the Future III. They left her sleeping on a porch for one and a half movies, through the rise and fall of two timelines and a wacky western adventure.

Temporal Anomalies: Marty A and Marty B

What I want to talk about though is the end of the first film. Marty had just returned to 1985, mere minutes away from saving Doc Brown from being gunned down by Libyan nationalists, and just in time to see himself go back in time (if I just spoiled Back to the Future for you then you should stop reading now… and never read this blog again). When you see this in the film, you think, “Oh, that’s nice, we’ve come full circle.” Except that it’s not the same Marty we saw at the beginning of the film. That’s an entirely different Marty.

Follow up:

See, there are two Martys. Marty A grew up with parents in a mostly loveless marriage built on lies, peeping, and Florence Nightingale effects. Marty B grew up with loving parents in a marriage built on rape prevention and mutual love of tennis. Are these Martys the same person? I honestly don’t know. What we do know for sure though is that the different households produced different siblings: a brother, Dave, who worked in some sort of “office” and a sister, Linda, who was popular with some sort of “dates.” Different parents and different siblings should mean a different Marty.

Two Martys
Marty on Marty Action

Marty A went back in time, changed a bunch of events, but didn’t go back to his future; he went back to someone else’s future. Marty B's future. Marty B was living a pretty decent life: he had a sweet truck, parents that let him do whatever he wanted, let him go on whatever camping trips he wanted, date whoever wanted, and he had a sweet truck. The same hot girlfriend either way, but she was probably more into him, mostly do to the sweetness of his truck. Did I mention that truck? And now all of that belongs to Marty A. He has usurped Marty B’s life, he’s done nothing to earn that truck or a family that loves him or a man-child Biff to wait on him and wax various cars in various driveways. Marty A is mucking up Marty B’s whole existence: pissing off Strickland, drag racing, blowing auditions. So, where’s Marty B in all this?

Marty B was in the time machine, while Marty A was returning to the future. Meaning Marty B is in 1955 doing whatever he needs to do to get back to 1985. And these are not the same things Marty A had to do. This is not the same movie we just watched. Marty A had to go back to the past and make sure his parents relived their love story. And the love story he grew up with was his mom’s dad hit his dad with the car, his mom and dad then went to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, danced at said enchanting dance, had their first kiss, and fell in love. Marty B, however, grew up with a different “love story.” In this slightly darker tale, George McFly saves Loraine from getting raped by Biff, punches Biff out, takes Loraine to the dance, got confident, maybe ran for class president, shared his science fiction stories, yadda, yadda, yadda. George even referenced it at the end of the movie: Biff. What a character. Always trying to get away with something. I've had to stay on top of Biff ever since high school. Although, if it wasn't for him... We never would have fallen in love. Marty A just had to make sure his parents kissed at this specific dance. Marty B’s plan, on the other hand, has to involve actively trying to get Biff to molest his mom. He has to make sure that happens or else all the other good stuff in his life (including his truck) doesn’t happen.

Fig. 1.21

bttf timeline
Marty A travels to 1955 and returns to timeline B. Marty B travels to 1955 and returns to timeline C.

Diverging Timelines: A, B, C, and D

Considering Marty A could barely manage to get two kids to go on a date, do you really think Marty B is capable of arranging for George to save his mom from Biff? George vs Biff punch out was a freak accident. This is like training Don Knotts to fight Muhammad Ali. George McFly is so bad at fighting that he doesn’t even realize he’s left-handed. To knock out Biff, I imagine some sort of pulley system or Rube Goldberg machine would need to be involved. What if he does it though? What if Marty B manages to recreate most of what happened in the first movie? What are the consequences?

Best case scenario: Marty B does everything the same exact way as Marty A and at the end he gets the DeLorean up to 88, gets stuck by his 1.21 gigawatt bolt of lightning, and returns to the future… the same future that Marty A is already in. Does he become Marty A? Does Marty A pencil erase from time? Is it like Time Cop and they merge into a big blob of Michael J. Fox? This is the best case scenario, too. Worst case scenario: Marty B messes things up even more and the timeline that Marty A just returned to gets erased and replaced by a brand new timeline. Anything could change the timeline, he picks a different song to sing and it changes the timeline.

Enter Marty C. Now Marty C has to go back, but this time he has to make sure Biff cripples George when the rape saving scenario backfired with Marty B, but Lorraine nursed crippled George back to health because that’s what’s she’s hot for. Marty D has to then go back to make sure his grandpa hits George with the car when Marty C’s Dad crippling scenario went wrong. Which brings us back to A.

Marty Prime: Miff Tannen

But how do we know Marty A is even the original Marty?

Biff Marty
Butthead or Biffhead?

I’d like to purpose a different sort of Marty. Miff Tannen is a more plausible Marty. In the original timeline, even if George got hit by the car and even if he did take Lorraine to the dance, and even if they did kiss and fell in love—we’re supposed to believe Biff just gave up. Biff has spent years chasing after Lorraine, and there’s a Biff that exists in a not too distant timeline that very much tried to sexually assault Lorraine. And there’s a Biff that exists in a further flung timeline who murdered George, so he could marry Lorraine. I know we can’t judge a man for crimes he hasn’t committed yet, but can we agree that it’s in Biff’s makeup? We’re supposed to believe that regular timeline Biff just gave up because George and Lorraine kissed at some dance (it wasn’t even Prom!). No, Biff beat the crap out of George the next day. Then he would have beat crap out of Billy Zane, because I mean, it’s Billy Zane and, of course, Lorraine is going to try to eventually make out with Billy Zane if Billy Zane is an viable option. And so on and on until all his crap beating wears Lorraine down and she enters into a loveless marriage with Biff, which is not entirely different from her original loveless marriage with George. And they’d have three kids: Diff, Liff, and Miff (possibly played by Eric Stoltz).

Of course, Miff Tannen ruined everything when he met his Dad/Biff and they got trapped in a paradoxical noogie loop (they noogie for the rest of eternity), which negated Biff ever beating the crap out of everyone he needs to beat the crap out of.

But that’s not all, folks, more time traveling hijinks to come.

To Be Continued…

Update: I added a chart (Fig. 1.21) because no one had any clue as to what I was talking about. Including myself.

  • Smatsy
    Comment from: Smatsy
    05/13/13 @ 09:04:43 am

    ! I'm mostly stuck on Marty B going back to 1955. !!

    "Garbage can. Garbage can. Remember the garbage can."
    - Ted "Theodore" Logan

  • Matt Herold
    Comment from: Matt Herold
    05/13/13 @ 12:26:49 pm

    I've always wondered if Doc Brown B's friendship with young Marty B ever felt forced. It's hard for a friendship to grow organically when Doc's known since '55 that it was his density to become pals with this kid.

    And would the perhaps well-adjusted Marty B even feel the need to rebel against his parents, play rock 'n' roll or go hang out in a garage behind Burger King with some crazy, wild-eyed scientist?

  • gbaked
    Comment from: gbaked
    05/14/13 @ 12:16:09 pm

    You answered your own question here.

    "Does he become Marty A? Does Marty A pencil erase from time? Is it like Time Cop and they merge into a big blob of Michael J. Fox?"

    Your graphic shows it. Marty A is living in Marty B's timeline. But that Marty B will now be living in Marty C's timeline... and so forth.

    I guess the real question is, do all timelines converge? Or are there an infinite number of timelines that one could live on... I think flash forward was based loosely around this idea.

  • Griff T
    Comment from: Griff T
    05/14/13 @ 12:59:18 pm

    Flux Capacitor?! Your BTTF expertise in serious question.

  • Justin
    Comment from: Justin
    05/14/13 @ 01:38:46 pm

    My question is: if Doc Brown knew enough to put on a life jacket (a magic one that will stop AK 47 ammo), then why didn't he change the location of the trial run? Or do a better job conning the Libyans? Actually, I have a lot of questions. Good post!

  • Daniel
    Comment from: Daniel
    05/14/13 @ 02:31:59 pm

    If Marty B is a different person and goes back in time, why would he have to make sure his parents meet? They're different people from different upbringings; therefore, they act differently. Marty B might not go to the diner and run into his father before he peeps on Lorraine. Marty B might have learned more about cars and is able to fix the delorean himself and drive straight to Doc Brown's house to get the flux capacitor working.

    If Doc Brown has already thought to put on a bullet proof vest, perhaps he also put extra plutonium in the delorean before the Libyans arrived, so Marty would be able to return home immediately after getting the delorean running again. He would then return to the timeline of Marty C and begin an infinite loop. At some point possibly, one of the Martys will know that Doc Brown doesn't die, and will return exactly when they leave, instead of 15 minutes early, thus closing the loop permanently.

  • Rantree
    Comment from: Rantree
    05/14/13 @ 04:05:01 pm

    Is the past fluid as well? Is 1955 is always 1955. Original Marty A went back to Nov 5th, 1955. Meaning if any subsequent alternate Martys or anyone else for that matter time travel to Nov 5th 1955, Marty A will always be there trying to hook up Lorraine and George. When B goes back, A will be there, when C goes back, A and B will be there, when D goes back A, B, and C will already be there. Much like The Falconer sketch from SNL

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/the-falconer-time-travel/n12049/.

    Or does Marty A get erased from existence Nov 5th-12th when he returns to 1985 on Nov 12th?

  • Lucas
    Comment from: Lucas
    05/14/13 @ 04:54:05 pm

    As mentioned in the article it is mentioned that Marty A may not actually the original Marty. Because of this I believe that the plot of the second back to the future movie could be playing out in the first movie. What I mean by that is there may be a Marty from previous timelines making sure that Marty A gets pushed in front of the car that Lorraine's father is driving to create the story that he grew up hearing from his parents. You may ask "then why don't we see another Marty in the first movie." Well this is probably because the same thing is happening as in the second movie where Marty A is trying to avoid himself from the previous movie. By that logic, shouldn't there be infinite Marty's in 1955 in every single timeline?

  • Lucas
    Comment from: Lucas
    05/14/13 @ 05:08:21 pm

    Another note for one of the previous commenters: if doc would have put enough fuel in the delorean to make two trips, then past him would not learn of the shooting. If doc from 1955 never learns of the shooting then he would die. So in order for doc to live, there can only be enough fuel for one trip.

  • Wolfie G. Nards
    Comment from: Wolfie G. Nards
    05/14/13 @ 07:20:27 pm

    Thanks for all the comments! And I think everyone is correct: 1955 is going to get jam packed with McFlys.

  • neverAcquiesce
    Comment from: neverAcquiesce
    05/15/13 @ 09:43:18 am

    I look at it as time shifting around the principle time traveller.

    So Marty reemerges in 1985 at the end of the first movie. It is the same '85 until he enters it, then time changes instantaneously around him. Marty B (for lack of a better term) is the same as Marty A, about to go and do the exact same thing A did in 1955. Then when he returns to '85 the loop will continue, changing around him into Life is Awesome '85 while Marty C goes and does the '55 thang. So it's a mix of fluid and static, in that things only change and are perceptable to those involved in the change.

  • Vellocet
    Comment from: Vellocet
    05/15/13 @ 11:56:38 am

    Marty B merges with Marty A in 1955 because they both jump to the same place and time. The only reason there are two Marty As in 1955 is because the Marty A from BTTF2 jumps to a different place and time in 1955.

  • PapaSloth
    Comment from: PapaSloth
    05/15/13 @ 02:37:23 pm

    Think of the timeline as being broken into three segments, time before 1955, item between 1955 and 1985 and time after 1985. In timeline A, Marty A exists in 1985 and jumps back to 1955, creating timeline B. Marty B is born between 1955 and 1985, and grows up. Marty A travels from 1955 to 1985 in timeline B ("returns" is the wrong word, because he's not returning to timeline A. Instead, he's traveling to timeline B). Now, between 1955 and 1985 Marty B exists but Marty A doesn't. So, in 1985, Marty B travels back to 1955 and creates timeline C. However, Marty A has just traveled from 1955 to 1985, and has no reason to return back to 1955 again, and no other Marty A exists in timeline B. Therefore, only Marty B exists in 1955C. Marty C is born between 1955C and 1985C, and Marty B returns to 1985C. Marty A doesn't exist in 1985C because he returned to 1985B. In 1985C, there was no Marty A who traveled back to 1955C, so there's no Marty A to return to 1985C. So, we wouldn't expect to see an infinite number of Marties in either 1955 or 1985, assuming that all the Marties do the same thing in 1955 (which, I agree, is unlikely).

  • Guestnonymous
    Comment from: Guestnonymous
    05/15/13 @ 04:50:17 pm

    "And now all of that belongs to Marty A. He has usurped Marty B’s life, he’s done nothing to earn that truck or a family that loves him or a man-child Biff to wait on him and wax various cars in various driveways."

    I just want to point out that Marty A did *everything* to deserve that, as he provided causation to alter his own trajectory through time. Marty A expended the necessary effort to go into the past, and follow the days spent in 1955 until the trajectory was pointed towards Marty B's present. It's actually Marty B that didn't do anything to deserve the upper-middle class conditions of his birth (though perhaps he did expend the effort, in a more conventional sense, to deserve the sweet truck).

    What's really interesting is that there is a chance that no Marty ever returns to Marty A's present, (regardless, "Doc A" dies because in the trajectory that led to that Doc's existence, he was never warned about the shooting in advance).

    However, you're explicitly only arguing *one* theory of time travel (many worlds) and presenting it as the only theory of fluid time travel. The movie series, though vague, hinted heavily that it wasn't a presentation of the many worlds theory of time travel (i.e. the tangible disappearance of Marty A, unless you're chalking that up to hallucinations caused by exhaustion or something). The movie was very clearly a presentation of the idea that physical dimensionality (the characteristic existence of a thing) is malleable across the time domain, rather than multiple realities existing at each time.

  • Catherine
    Comment from: Catherine
    05/23/13 @ 09:27:47 am

    I commented on this on an other website. I thought I should share it here as well:

    Marty B comes back to Marty C's present, obviously. (And so forth).

    But, if that's really how it works, then changing his past wouldn't have made him disappear.. Just create another reality where he doesn't exist (because if he can go back to a present where he and his truck are changed, why couldn't he go back to a future where he doesn't exist?)

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