You are going to remember this evening for a long time—at least 26 years. You will clearly remember how excited you were to finally go to the cinema to see “Back to the Future II” after being so inspired by the original that you watched it dozens of times on a crappy VHS copy with your brothers. And I know that you’re lying in your bed tonight, thinking about Oct. 21, 2015, and how you will be living your life at the ripe old age of 41. You even looked up what day of the week it will be. In an almanac. Because almanacs rock, even when they’re not being used for ill-gotten time-travel gain.
But you already know yourself well enough to know at least one think you'll be doing today: thinking about you, lying there in your bed back in 1989. Indeed, your never-ending vice for nostalgia will inspire you to set aside a part of your workday to write a navel-gazing “back to the future” letter to yourself that you will share with your friends in the sad hope that they will “like” it (you’ll see why I put that in quotation marks by 2007). But all the other things you’re imagining for yourself, all the things that you think, hope, or fear will happen: you’re not even close.
First though, let me do something that you are desperately wishing you could do right now: talk to someone about the movie you just watched—someone who gets you. You are right to be disappointed, even if you can’t put your finger on why. Don’t worry—you will figure it out, and not because you’ll watch the movie as much as you did the first (in fact, you won’t watch it in full again for at least 25 years), but because you’re going to spend a large chunk of your adult life thinking about movies. And better yet, you’re going to get paid to think about movies and talk to other people about them. Don’t get too excited just yet—you’ll have a lot of steps in between before you get to that point.
By the time you’ve been doing that for a while, you’ll think back to this evening and realize that “Back to the Future II” is a good movie all-in-all, but it’s a jumbled mess compared to the narratively taut joy of the original. You’re never going to be able to understand exactly what happened and how, despite the best efforts of fellow fans who will make elaborate charts that you’ll one day be able to access via computer.
That sour taste in your mouth is also fueled by Pepsi, along with Pizza Hut, Nike, and all the lot of the companies that polluted the movie with their brands, giving you your first hard lesson in the economics of the film industry. Sorry to spoil the story, but that doesn’t get any better, only worse. But this feeling you have, this post-80s disgust with consumerism—harness that, stoke it, grow it to critical mass. It’s going to get you SO LAID in college.
But I know what is really causing your unsettled feeling tonight, and that is the speculative glimpse of the future that the movie gave you. And no, you’re not mistaken: the future looks lame. You know enough science already to know that flying cars and self-contained fusion reactors aren’t going to happen anytime soon. And everything else in the future just looks like some half-baked spin on everything in your present. Forget all that crap—what you witnessed tonight was not real futurism, it was a version that was watered down with jokes and puns for mass consumption by a population that is unwilling to think realistically beyond its own immediate wants and needs. The real 2015, the one I’m writing to you from, is much more interesting and layered.
And yet, paradoxically, it’s still pretty lame. No, your life doesn’t wind up as pathetic and wasted as the Marty McFly of the 2015 you saw tonight, nor does your density end up being as mediocre as you desperately fear it might be, but life is still pretty boring, even if there are bright moments of joy. And the world hasn’t really changed all that much; it’s still full of the same fearful, self-involved people that you’re starting to recognize around you (including the one in the mirror). It’s just that in 2015 they have new outlets to revel in themselves and their terrors. But all of that is just how life is, and fortunately you’ll have studied enough literature and movies to understand and accept that by the time you get to now. The future isn’t what it used to be.
The good news is, it still isn’t.
That is probably all I should tell you, for fear of upsetting the space-time continuum.
Oh, what the hell.
TV has gotten better in most respects (except for MTV—long story), but commercials are still as horrible as you lament they are in the 80s.
Salt makes things taste a lot better.
You are still a sentimental romantic, in case you haven’t figured it out by now.
Hollywood does finally make live-action Transformers and G.I. Joe movies, but believe it or not you’ll wish they hadn’t. No one has made a live-action M*A*S*K movie. Yet.
Your instincts toward women are kinder and truer than you give yourself credit for. Kiss her.
Film erotica is still as bad as the Skinemax movie you caught a peek of and gave up on tonight (I told you I remember!). You’ll know the genre could be better, even inspirational, but you won’t have done anything to remedy that.
One of the people you saw the movie with tonight will not live to see 2015. Yes, you still have a flair for the dramatic.
Your feet, although workable, are quite messed up through neglect. Please take whatever precautions are necessary to prevent this terrible disaster.
I could go on, but we both know from literary example that if I tell you too much more, you’ll decide to bet on the Cubs in 2015 and lose all our money. Or if I tell you too much about your loves and losses, you’ll miss out on the tiny chance occurrence that happens to make it all worth waiting for. But I don’t want to end without addressing the heavy question that I know is particularly vexing you tonight, one that will vex you for years—a question that only you and I know, or will ever know. And I wish very much I could tell you the honest answer: “No, not fully. But I will never give up on us.” And that’s really why I’m writing you today, not just in an ill-conceived effort to time travel, but to remind us both what the real message of that wonderfully imperfect film series: our future is not yet written—even when the future becomes the past.