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Jesus Christ

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Jesus Christ (4 BC - 30 AD) was the founder of the Christian religion. The Back to the Future trilogy occasionally makes reference to religion in its social commentary, and like most popular films, has been analyzed by persons seeking to find hidden religious meaning. References to Jesus Christ include the following:

  • In demonstrating how the time machine works, Doc Brown says that one could see the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the display shows "JUL 04 1776". Next, he says, "or witness the birth of Christ!" and punches in 12250000 to display "DEC 25 0000". Luckily for Marty, the date that Doc sets after that is "NOV 05 1955", so Marty ends up traveling 30 years back in time rather than 1,985 years back.
  • In downtown Hill Valley, the former Town Theater is occupied, in 1985 by a church, the Assembly of Christ. The sign outside the church says "Salvation is Free", promoting the evangelical mission of the church. The Reverend John Crump is listed on the former theater marquee as the pastor. Marty crashes through the front door of the church, rather than into its walls, on his return from 1955 to 1985 and -- some would say miraculously -- is uninjured.
  • Marty used Christ's name as an exclamation during the events shown in first film: when he walked into Doc's lab on his way to school and noticed the mess; was talking to Jennifer Parker ("Jesus, I'm starting to sound like my old man!"); watched in horror as Einstein became the world's first time traveler ("Jesus Christ, Doc, you disintegrated Einstein!"); heard Doc describe ripping off a group of terrorists; saw Mr. Strickland in 1955 ("Jesus, didn't that guy ever have any hair?"); and was trying to help his future dad with pickup lines ("Jesus, George, it's a wonder I was even born!").
  • On the other hand, Marty made no reference to Jesus at all during the events shown in Part II or in Part III (though he could hear his "younger self" exclaim "Geez, you smoke too?")
  • A statue of Jesus can be seen in the cemetery in Part II. There are also cross-shaped grave markers appearing in both Part II and Part III.
  • Seen in Part III, Marty's great-great-grandmother, Maggie McFly, who was Roman Catholic, made the sign of the cross as she worried about having "Mr. Eastwood" in her home.
  • When Marty had supper with Seamus and Maggie McFly, Seamus said grace at supper, "From thy bounty through Chris Our Lord, Amen", and he and Maggie each made the sign of the cross before starting to eat. 

Most of Marty's acquaintances in Hill Valley referred to God, rather than to Jesus, in various contexts.

Behind the scenes

Bob Gale wrote an essay in the book Religion and Prime Time Television and conceded that "the movie was rated 'PG' for some profanity and for taking the name of the Lord's name in vain,".[1] In an essay entitled "Ramblings on Why Things Are the Way They Are", Gale related an incident involving his co-writer and the film's director, Robert Zemeckis. "Zemeckis, who is Catholic, was told by a priest that the movie was highly offensive and delivered an insidious message, and that he had told his parishioners to avoid seeing it.".[2] The priest objected to the idea that Marty could interfere with "God's plan" and make his present life better by altering the past. The sequels, of course, did not change the central premise of time travel, but Marty no longer used the name of Jesus when expressing his astonishment. The first episode of Back to the Future: The Game, however, keeps Jesus Christ as a possible dialogue option during Marty's nightmare.

  • "This is one of my favorite jokes that no one ever laughs at, that Jesus was born on December 25 in the year 0," Bob Gale noted in commentary to the scene where Doc demonstrates the time circuits. Neil Canton added, "They're probably still not laughing!" It's one of the few jokes that can can reference a religious subject without being considered sacreligious, in that it's making fun of Dr. Brown. Although it would be a reasonable scientific conclusion, based on the dating of the A.D. or Common Era (C.E.) from the birth of Jesus, as well as the celebration of his birth on Christmas Day each year, there is no "year zero" on the calendar. December 31, 1 BC, is followed by January 1, 1 AD.
  • Doc isn't alone in being mistaken about the birth of Jesus, since the calendar is based on erroneous calculations by Dionysius Exigius. Even Christians are surprised to learn that Jesus was probably born in "4 BC" (in other words, Christ was born four years "Before Christ"), or that he was probably born in springtime, and not at all likely in December. This is based on two Biblical references-- first, that Jesus was born "in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea" [3], and second, that at the time "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" [4]. Herod was king of Judaea from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC, and shepherds stayed outside at night in the fields only during the spring when it was the "lambing season", generally in March and April.

Appearances

References

  1. Michael Suman, Religion and Prime Time Television (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997), [1], p141
  2. Ibid. at pp. 140-41
  3. Luke 1:5
  4. Luke 2:8

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