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Bick, I.J. (1990). Outatime: Recreationism and the Adolescent Experience In Back to the Future. Psychoanal. Rev., 77(4):587-608.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Review, 77(4):587-608

Outatime: Recreationism and the Adolescent Experience In Back to the Future

Ilsa J. Bick, M.D.


In recent American cinema, there has been a trend toward films depicting role reversals, bodily exchange, or time travel. Notably, most of these films, such as Big (20th-century Fox; Marshall, 1988), and Like Father, Like Son (TriStar; Daniel, 1987), portray either boys becoming men or fathers exchanging bodies with their sons. Back to the Future (Universal; Zemeckis), a highly successful and popular film from 1985, may be considered the progenitor of this recent trend. Of the many films of its type, Back to the Future combines elements of magical wish-fulfillment and reversals in traditional father-son roles with oedipal themes and issues specific to the second separation-individuation phase of adolescent development (Blos, 1962).

On the surface, Back to the Future appears to be fairly straightforward: a mid-adolescent male accidentally travels back in time, only to inadvertently alter the course of his own future. He meets his now-adolescent parents-to-be; his (future) mother becomes amorously infatuated with him; and now, not only must he orchestrate his parents' romance, he must also find a way to return to his own time. The film ends happily with the son returning to the present only to discover that his parents have become more prosperous, desirable, and overtly sexual than when he left. At film's end, the son and his girlfriend travel off to the future to confront their own children.

Back to the Future depicts the adolescent resurgence of oedipal conflicts and various permutations of family romance fantasy (Freud, 1909; Kaplan, 1974).

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