What the Hell’s a Jigawatt?

“I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 jigawatts of electricity I need.” ~Doc Brown

flux_capacitorThe first time I saw the flux capacitor I was like a kid in a candy store, eyes wide open, mouth drooling, frozen in place, hoping to hell that it didn’t go anywhere. I thought that if that thing was real it would be a gold mine. I would be able to go back to any point in time and change things I didn’t like the first time through, paradoxes be damned. But there was a thick piece of glass between me and it, and as naive as I was I didn’t actually believe the TV could be ransacked to steal the content inside.

I knew I would have to wait. And waiting has never been my forte.

It was 1991, and like everyone else, I had waited long enough to get Back to the Future, Part II on video. Blockbuster had this massive sale going on, and I was able to pick up a “slightly used” copy for $15 bucks, an absolute steal. I spent all of my money that hadn’t been used up on Slurpees and Teen Beat magazine to procure my own copy. Then I watched the hell out of it, hoping with each viewing that it wouldn’t be the one that wore out the delicate video ribbon.

It lasted for over 20 years. I still have absolutely no idea how.

“You built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” I honestly felt like Marty every single time I saw that bitchin’ time machine. OUTATIME indeed. It was so futuristic that I felt like it outatime2-600x600could fly the moment Doc drove it out of that trailer in the first film. To me that car transcended both time and space, so the idea that it could actually fly in the second film made perfect sense to me. What didn’t make sense was the 1.21 jigawatts.

You see, while I was totally in sync with time travel and everything that entailed, I knew nothing whatsoever about the science behind it. I knew the “sucker was electrical,” and that it took plutonium to give it some real “kick,” but how massive that electrical current just had to be was beyond my scope. It was the first thing I really took on faith from the first movie, and that carried over into the second. It was that 1.21 jigawatts that took it over the edge from science fiction into some type of spiritual faith.

And I was okay with that, with moving it forward from a simple movie into an entire belief system. I was good with suspending all rational thought and going with the flow, even when the timeline changed, even when Marty almost ran into his former self, even when Jennifer did run into her future self. It was all totally believable because of that 1.21 jigawatts of electricity that took the car from a simple DeLorean into the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, come back to take his children home.

In that way I didn’t even care anymore what the hell a jigawatt was, so long as it could make me fly, so long as it could bring me back and forth in time like a swinging metronome easing to and fro, so long as it could give me everlasting life. You know, like a movie does the more times you watch it, like this movie does to me without fail, bringing me back to the first time I ever watched it, to that sense of childlike wonder I used to carry with me all the time.

Which meant that every time Marty got behind that wheel and hit 88 miles per hour I closed my eyes and felt the rapture. I still do.


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