Back to the Future is a Science Fiction Odyssey


My research skills suck. Some things seem obvious to me, but I can’t find evidence anyone else agrees. Maybe it’s too obvious to be stated publicly. Maybe my dyslexia hampers my ability to see what’s out there. Maybe this is a case of spoiler alerts by classics scholars who don’t want to tell the children that the Greek myth equivalent of Santa Claus isn’t real. Anyway,…

I think Back to the Future (episode one of that lucrative franchise, which is the Top Twitter Trend today, due to this being #BackToTheFuture Day) was some kind of a re-imagining of Homer’s Odyssey, the second great work of Western literature. Marty McFly was, I believe, Telemachus – Odysseus’s son in the Greek epic poem.

It’s possible this was in the mind of someone associated with the Back to the Future script, director or some other part of the creative team, fully-consciously.  On the other hand, he/she/they may have borrowed the living heart of The Odyssey’s narrative structure, just as James Joyce did with his novel Ulysses, then waited to see if anyone worked it out for themselves. Possibly I’m seeing something that’s simply not there: I’m definitely not ruling that out. And last, but by no means least, it may have been a subliminal influence.

If I’m right, what does that say about Homer’s epic? I’m pretty sure that the Odyssey is a parable. As it’s dressed up in the atire of a supernatural tale, it isn’t to be taken literally. But does it stand up as a piece of literature due to a deeper psychological meaning? I suspect it does. Whether Homer realized this consciously or not is another matter. Anyway, here’s my thoughts…

Let’s start with the conclusion of Homer’s epic poem. The protagonist wins his wife (allegedly wins her back without her knowing it’s him) by proving to be the only man physically powerful and skillful enough to fire an arrow through a hole, going on to celebrate his manliness by massacring all Penelope’s other suitors. And the two heterosexual soulmates live happily ever after.

If we had to take this story literally, the bloodbath seems grotesquely horroric, not at all love story. However, given the given the way the story ends I think we can read back to see the entire story being about something very different.

Telemachus is the unborn son of two perfect soul-mates who must be brought together for him to be born, just as Marty McFly had to bring his own parents together.

Almost the entire epic exposes Odysseus as an immature but very intelligent adventurer, hanging around with a gang of immature chums, having unsatisfying affairs that go nowhere. But something draws him to his soul-mate, and that something is the spirit of his son appealing to the Gods to get him back on course, back to his soul-mate. And when Odysseus and Penelope do get together, he casts the competition aside. The bloody nature of the scattering of these suitors is arresting. It’s imagery makes for a memorable climax. But it’s not to be taken seriously.

Cyclops, by the way, is, I think, possibly a previous version of Odysseus: the man as a todler, a brat, an immature child who hasn’t even formed the immature relationship of the Odysseus we meet throughout most of the poem.

That, at any rate, is my theory. And Back to the Future a retelling of that tale.

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