Growing up (and, in the interest of transparency, as an adult), I was always afraid of Back to the Future II. I loved the first one. I was an 80s kid, I thought the Calvin Klein name was super funny, I loved 50s fashion, and the fact that it had the Howard the Duck girl meant we’d be watching it over and over again at home on VHS. Aside from the pit I still get in my stomach every time I hear “Earth Angel” and the need to check to make sure my hand is still there, the first one was great for me. If there’s ever a 3-movie marathon, though, I conveniently have a conflict when the second one is on, because I cannot watch it for one reason alone: I cannot handle the alternate 1985.
Something about that altered reality terrified me. I’ve never been great with change, but I had worked my way into accepting the notion of altering reality in a way that can only be remedied by a flying DeLorean and a guy with Bernie Sanders hair. The altered 1985, though, was a reality I refused to witness.
Here’s what, friends: my worst childhood fear has become our adult reality. We are in alternate 1985.
When Marty arrives in the altered 1985, things look the same. Sort of. At first glance. And so do we. I mean, we still live in houses or buildings, and we’re still having an election (sort of), and there are still 2 political parties (sort of), and we still go about our days in much the same way (allowing, of course, for foul language and violent threats from aspiring authorities and governing via a thing called Twitter). But then Marty lands in the wrong girl’s bed (who among our American heroes has not?) and then stumbles into town to find that the straw-haired villain has erected a giant building and put his name on it, and OMG, here we are in the alternate 1985 I’ve spent my life avoiding.
For those of you who spent the late 80s and early 90s living with the Amish (spoiler alert!), Alt-1985 (dangerously close to alt-right) was an alternate timeline created when 2015 Biff Tannen traveled back in time to give the 1955 version of himself a 1950-2000 sports almanac so that he could bet on the winners (we know how our villain likes to win) and get rich (you know, the most important sacrifice, according to some people). He had overheard Doc Brown warning Marty about the dangerous historical implications of such an act, but who cares about global history when you can ensure personal gain? At first nervous about trusting a man with a bright yellow comb-over (aren’t we all?), young Biff hesitates. However, a few years later he bets on a horse race and becomes a millionaire overnight, much like how Donald Trump became a millionaire overnight the night his father gave him a million dollars.
When we encounter Million-Dollar Biff in Alt-1985, he has named himself “Hill Valley’s Number One Citizen” and is being praised as “America’s greatest living folk hero,” a title no doubt given to him by Trump’s doctor. He has used the money he has made in ways that bump up against the limits of the law to buy both political power and the police force. He has 3 goons doing his heavy lifting (didn’t get a good look, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was Corey Lewandowski, Steven Bannon, and Roger Ailes). He has his likeness in a wax museum. He is on his third wife, the lovely Lorraine, for whom he has also ordered some plastic surgery (to be fair to Alt-Biff, Lorraine is totally age appropriate, but he does find himself in the hot tub with some younger ladies). He has turned the courthouse into a casino hotel (#AmericaFirst #2A…..total tangent, but it bothers me to no end that Trump refers to the Second Amendment as “2A”). He has turned his city into a dystopian crime den that resembles Trump’s description of the mean streets of Chicago. He has put his name on everything, including said casino hotel, where he lives in a penthouse that, in all candor, isn’t high enough and doesn’t have enough gold.
Screenwriter Bob Gale admitted recently that Donald Trump was in fact his inspiration for Alt-Biff. That alone is frightening information, because in order to create a 1985 nightmare, Gale asked himself what would happen if his super villain had money and power, and he landed on something that looked like Donald Trump.
But the strange part to me wasn’t how much Alt-Biff was like Trump. What struck me as more bizarre was how much Donald Trump resembles the less threatening but equally villainous non-alternates. His campaign trail golf shirt and baseball cap look more like the sporty 1985 Biff at the end of the first movie, cleaning George McFly’s car with the same embarrassed, meek grin Trump had when Rev. Faith Green Timmons admonished him in her Flint, Michigan church. Likewise, banging on George’s head saying, “Hello! Anybody home?” seems like the exact kind of governing method Trump would employ, if elected. And Biff’s habit of calling anyone he didn’t like a “butthead” doesn’t seem far off in tact or creativity, as today alone Trump referred to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as “dopey” and to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd as a “neurotic dope.” And “wacky.” And “crazy.” And needless to say, any Biff was pretty aggressive and insulting toward women.
But ultimately Donald Trump is just Old Biff, right? He’s a greedy older man who can’t seem to live up to his own ego, so he hatches a plan to win again, to make Biff great again. Maybe there is some sort of time travel or premonition at play. Maybe a golden ghost did visit him with an almanac of sorts, because how else do you explain the fact that we have Trump quotes on the Iraq invasion from 2002? He was a guy with a strong sense for visual branding who owned some beauty pageants and knew how to create a reputation of luxury but would ultimately be a reality TV star. Why were we asking him about global politics? Was Flavor Flav not available?
So, maybe Bob Gale really is the fortune-teller. Back in the 1980s, he was tasked with predicting what the world would look like in 2015. He had some hits and misses, but he was actually painting a closer 2016 when he painted the alternative 1985. When he wrote Biff, he actually predicted Trump.
He didn’t get to end Biff’s story the way he had planned, though. They shot but later deleted a scene where Old Biff returns to 2015 in the DeLorean in pain and then starts to disappear. The implied backstory was that as the alternate 1985 timeline continued, Lorraine would have shot him, so he wouldn’t exist in 2015. Viewers were supposed to infer all of that when they saw him exit the car, crouch down, and slowly become see-through the way Marty’s hand did in the first movie. So, maybe Bob Gale’s final statement for Biff is that alt-behavior will catch up to you in the future, that for every winner, there must be a loser, that if you try to go back in time to make something great again, there will be unintended consequences. Donald Trump may not disappear. He may not even intentionally become transparent. But deleted or not, in this version of reality, we’re beginning to see through him.