4

In the first Back to the Future movie, there is an "original" timeline from 1955 to 1985 which includes the events described by Marty's mother about the way George and Lorraine fell in love. Marty disrupts these events; despite putting things mostly back on track, the 1985 he returns to is subtly altered from the one he left, containing an altered version of his family and Biff. This altered timeline contained a mostly unseen version of Marty who somehow had the means to obtain the black Toyota pickup which "hero" Marty first sees when he opens the garage. Since hero Marty has no memory of getting the truck, he's a different Marty to the one who did. So, what happened to that other Marty?

"Hero" Marty returns to 1985 to see the replay of events at the Twin Pines Lone Pine mall parking lot, but that is the alternate Marty. He disappears in the DeLorean, but then what?

4
  • 1
    I didn't come up with this but it has some appeal as a virtually never explored type of timeline. Unseen Marty basically made his parents become the losers of the original timeline. Fill in the details as you see fit. In reality however there probably was no unseen Marty - the timeline updating doesn't work that fast in back to the future so what we see is the original probably. Mar 21 '21 at 4:06
  • 1
    @lucasbachmann Are you suggesting that alternate Marty also went back to 1955 but altered it in a different way? I don't see how that could work without there being multiple versions of Marty potentially running in to each other, as almost happens in BTTF2. Also, since both Marty versions ultimately derived from a single timeline in 1955 (up to the point "original" Marty first arrives), how could a different sequence of events play out from 1955 only to create "original" Marty's original timeline?
    – Anthony X
    Mar 21 '21 at 14:58
  • BTTF seems like one of those time travel stories involving "changes" to a single unique timeline (as opposed to branching alternate universes, which don't seem to match Bob Gale's conception of BTTF according to his FAQ here), which tends to lead to all sorts of logical holes. I think the best you can do to make sense of it is imagine a sort of second time dimension, "metatime" as discussed here, which allows for "earlier" and "later" versions of the timeline.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 21 '21 at 17:31
  • 1
    (cont.) In terms of this picture, we could postulate a “rule” of time travel: when there are different iterations of the timeline where different versions of the same character make the same trip through time at the same point in their lives (both Marty-A and Marty-B going from 1985 to 1955 in the parking lot), at the arrival point their memories always reset to the memories they had in the “earliest” (in metatime) version of the timeline where this trip happened. So in every version of the timeline where Marty arrives at the farm in 1955, his memories are always those of Marty-A.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 21 '21 at 17:31
4

We do see the altered timeline Marty for a moment as he travels back in time from the parking lot of the Lone Pine Mall, as to what happens to him after that canonically we have no clue.

1
  • Forgot that detail when I wrote the question; I've edited accordingly, but the core of my question remains: there is unquestionably an alternate version of Marty who we only directly see in the parking lot, but, as you point out, disappears from canon with the DeLorean.
    – Anthony X
    Mar 21 '21 at 15:02
3

The simplest explanation is that we don't know. As far as I know, this isn't addressed in canon or through any (direct) Word of God answer.

It depends on if we consider BTTF a "single timeline universe" or a "multiple timeline universe".

Consider that "Marty-A" is the Marty we follow through the film and "Marty-B" is the Marty we see get into the DeLorean at the end (from the alternate 1985). I'm going to make the case there is reasonable evidence to suggest that Marty-A and Marty-B are in fact the same person if we consider BTTF a "single timeline universe".

In this case, there is simply no where for Marty-B to go - upon returning to the past, he would end up running into Marty-A anyway.

Therefore I would suggest that either:

  1. Marty-B returns to the past with memories of the alternate 1985 timeline. He still ends up doing pretty much all of the same stuff that Marty-A does, including messing up his parents meeting and reuniting them (or maybe not). He could still become "Marty-A" at the end of the film. But there is a problem with this - as we've seen, Marty-A doesn't remember the altered timeline (at least not right away). So alternatively:

  2. Marty-B returns back to a yet a different 1985 than Marty-A. Now we have to consider at least 6 timelines (3 in 1955, 3 in 1985) and possibly infinite if the loop just keeps repeating. In which case the answer to what happens to Marty-B is he ends up in another timeline. So finally:

  3. Marty-B never travels to the past. The only Marty we ever see is Marty-A at two different points. This is the simplest explanation and seems to be supported by the fact that the timeline can "change" around people, as seen in BTTF2 and BTTF3.

Up until we find out Doc is alive, or Marty-A wakes in his house, there isn't much indication that he's in an altered timeline, with one big exception - Lone Pine Mall. But we know printed text (like matchsticks and newspaper) can easily change. Ergo, the mall could still have been named "Twin Pines Mall" when Marty-B meets Doc at the end of the film. At some point after arriving at the mall, but before Marty-A shows up (perhaps at the moment Marty-A arrived), the sign changed (off camera) to Lone Pine Mall. Marty-B (really Marty-A) never notices as he's not looking at the sign.

I suspect living in an alternated timeline long enough you would eventually gain "corrected" memories (Marty A would start to remember the Marty B alternate 1985) - but that's just speculation. After all, 1885 Doc doesn't remember sending Marty back, although it's possible it just hasn't been long enough.

The first time you watch the film, in my mind at least, there isn't intended to be any doubt you're watching the original Marty before you discover the "surprise " - Doc is still alive, and (later) the timeline has been changed.

12
  • "Because the Marty we see at the end of the film getting into the DeLorean (Marty-B) is not an alternative Marty who grew up in an alternate timeline" You should specify that this is your own speculation--we do see the long shot of Marty-B getting into the DeLorean to escape the Libyans after we see that the sign says "Lone Pine Mall" rather than "Twin Pines Mall", so why wouldn't Marty-B's memories also reflect the altered timeline? For a different speculation about why Marty-B could have different memories without this leading to him acting differently in 1955, see my 2 comments on the OP.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 21 '21 at 17:39
  • @Hypnosifl that pine tree was wiped out at the beginning of the film. It is a certainty and there's been plenty of time for the timeline to update. The Mcfly's have been in a state of uncertainty until just prior to Marty going back to 1985. Thus it a reasonable opinion by Tronman. Mar 21 '21 at 18:11
  • @lucasbachmann - But it's also questionable whether, when a person alters some event in the past and then jumps to the future, after they arrive the ripple effect would take time to update objects in the future that are "native" to that time (as opposed to objects which have been carried through time like the photo of Marty's siblings or the matchbook from Biff's casino). There's no visual examples like that in the film, everything seems consistent with the idea that when you change the past and jump to the future, you immediately end up in the future that results from that altered past.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 21 '21 at 18:32
  • Unless there's a canon answer (there isn't) or a Word of God answer (there might be), any answer other than "we don't know" is speculation. I think this answer is (mostly) consistent with BTTF logic (which is not entirely consistent anyway) and what the writers intended (although if someone can quote that, I can include it). Also timeline updates cannot be instantaneously when time traveling - Biff returns to the (original) future after giving himself the Almanac.
    – Tronman
    Mar 21 '21 at 18:46
  • Re old Biff's return to 2015, the answer to question 1.9 on the official BTTF FAQ (written by Gale and Zemeckis) says 'we believe Old Biff DID indeed return to a different future — a "2015-A," which would have transformed around Marty, Doc, Jennifer and Einstein'. They do add 'This would happen AFTER Old Biff returned with the DeLorean', but I think they might just mean Marty et al. wouldn't have been in 2015-A before old Biff returned (they say they made sure the characters were out of the house beforehand), but would be as soon as he did.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 21 '21 at 18:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.