Biff Tannen: A Villain for the AgesPosted: March 6, 2011
Biff from the Back to the Future series is the greatest movie villain of all time. Not only is his dickishness the stuff of legend, but his villainy transcends time, space and generations.
The first time we meet Biff is in 1985. He has crashed George McFly’s car while intoxicated and somehow manages to blame it on George. “How could you let me drive your car without telling me it had a blind spot!?” Then, we learn that he is having George do his work for him, so he won’t be fired. There’s bullies and then there is Biff; he is what bullies feverishly but fruitlessly aspire to be.
When Marty McFly takes a journey thirty years into the past to 1955, he encounters Biff again–young Biff. In the past, young Biff is arguably an even bigger jerk than his older counterpart. He seems more…proactive. “Hey, McFly! I thought I never told you to come in here!” referring to the local diner. Of course he has mistaken Marty for his father George. This is the moment when we learn that Biff has been tormenting George for over thirty years. Biff is such a grade-A A-hole that he actively keeps George from frequenting a public place. Not to mention he has George doing his homework for him. Things never change. That is, unless you make them change.
As the movie goes on, we find out how Young Biff harasses Loraine, George’s future wife and once put in the right scenario, would actually have raped Loraine when given the opportunity. He’s not only the biggest douche in the world, but is downright evil. I know, it’s dark and unpleasant to think about, but it is in the movie. It would have happened, but thankfully George stepped up and finally put Biff in his place. George McFly gained the power of Self-Respect!
When Marty returns to the future, Biff is a like a harmless dog and, for some reason, working for the now successful science-fiction author, George McFly.
But, just when you think Biff is defeated, we take a journey to the not-to-distant future in Part II. Now Biff is an old man and has a grandson named Griff. Yes, grandson. Who is his son? or daughter perhaps? This is, unfortunately, a character we never meet. We also don’t meet the woman who fathered his child. I’m not sure I want to know about the Tannen women especially based on what Biff’s grandmother sounds like. Sheesh!
Griff of course, is just Biff with an even worse attitude and access to advanced technology like extending boots, an extending baseball bat, and of course The Pitbull.
Griff is a small fry though and is quickly taken care of. But in Part II, we see something truly terrifying. Biff with power.
Because Old Biff stole the time machine and a sports almanac, he is able to go back in time and ensure that himself as a young man knows the outcome of every sporting event for the next hundred years. Because of this, when Marty and The Doc go back to the present, it is actually an alternate reality; one in which Biff is wealthy and powerful.
Power corrupts. And Biff was a massive prick to begin with, so, you do the math. Dystopian wasteland? Check. All of the terrible things Biff is capable of come to fruition in Bizarro Hill Valley. We even learn that in this reality, he has murdered George McFly to steal his wife Loraine. By this point you are probably catching on; Biff is a really bad person.
Biff and the Back to the Future series raises some frightening philosophical questions on the nature of evil. Is evil the product of circumstance or is it a transcendent, perhaps genetic force? Was Biff born evil? Does he carry the “evil” gene? Well, at the end of the first film we see Biff has become docile, leading us to think that because of circumstance, he has changed his ways. In truth, Biff never changed. He just changed his attitude towards George because George had decked him. To Biff, George is the only person in the world more dominating than him. In the future, we see that Old Biff is just as big an asshat as ever.
The oafish-machismo quality is strong in the Tannen family. They are like a force of nature. But how deep does the rabbit-hole go? We certainly get a glimpse of that in Part III, when we meet Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. He is a Tannen three generations removed and is the worst of them all!
Mad Dog Tannen is a murdering, train-robbing, and probably smelly, outlaw. He carries the “villain gene,” and he miraculously manages to propagate his legacy for well over a hundred years.
Because we are able to see the different generation of Tannen men throughout the ages and because of the nature of a time-travel narrative, I think the character of Biff has something important to say about life that is worth remembering: There will always be Biffs in this world. There will always be bullies or self-centered people who will live out their entire lives doing nothing but creating conflict and hardship to those around them.
But take heart, because I believe good people are in the majority. I bet the actor, Tom Wilson, is probably a pretty nice guy in real life. In my experience, real jerks don’t know their jerks. I think you would have to know and understand how a jerk thinks and acts before you could play one like Biff in a movie.
It took a good actor who is nice and has a great sense of humor to create the character of Biff. I think this video will prove my point:
In the immortal words of Marty McFly, “Hey, lighten up, jerk!” Remember, the future isn’t written, and you are in control of your own destiny. Don’t let people like Biff push you around.
Yours in time,