Whenever you refer to Taxi Driver, immediately everybody remembers the famous quote “Are you talkin’ to me?” and Bickle’s mohawk. Just for this reason, many people find this film overrated. Personally I think they’re wrong, with all due respect, Taxi Driver goes beyond that.
Scorsese depicts a decadent and hypocrite society, streets full of scum, drugs and prostitution, through the eyes of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an ex-Marine with issues.
Tough times for New York City, affected by alarming levels of criminality, violence, drugs and prostitution.
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran with personal issues and insomnia disorder, applies for a job as a cab driver on night shifts. He has no life at all and no attachments, the only two constant activities on a regular basis are writing a diary, in which he expresses his discontent about human mankind and the dirty society he has to coexist with, and watching porn movies at dirty cinemas. Bickle is a loner, and the only contact with reality is what he sees while driving the cab: all kind of customers, and postcards from the city.
All of a sudden his eyes find Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a beautiful young woman actively working for the politician Palantine’s campaign for presidency. To Bickle she is a symbol of a new hope, pure and beautiful, which can save America… and him. Thus, in order to get acquainted with her, he decides to volunteer and collaborate for the success of the politician.
On the other hand, while working, he’s got a strange encounter with a teenage prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), and her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel).
Things with Betsy don’t work fine for Travis, and her rejection will awake his sense of justice, feeling encouraged to straight things his own unorthodox way.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, the truth is that I always discover something new, or better said, something previously unnoticed catches my attention. I really love when this happens.
There are several features, camera and techniques aside, which, in my opinion, contribute Taxi Driver to be a masterpiece: Travis Bickle, the characters and what each symbolizes, narration and dialogues, and the city itself.
Let’s get started.
Bickle’s past life is unknown. Only few details for the record are mentioned when applying for the job at the company, he used to be a former Marine and served in Nam, hadn’t received much education, and apparently he’s no relatives or close people.
He’s a real Steppenwolf, the only contact with reality is through the taxi, and considering he works night shifts in trouble hoods, what he sees is basically crap: prostitutes, pimps, junkies…
Well, up to this point Travis might seem just another freak but, he’s right in many things he writes on his diary, and we all reckon is normal to wish a better environment and atmosphere.
Betsy is his opportunity to fit in a society he finds helpless. Her beauty is taken for innocence and purity at Travis’ eyes, and she means hope. She’s a spark in the middle of mud, and Travis has such a crush on her, he manages to defy his inner demons in order to approach her.
Let me tell you, the moment Travis introduces himself to her, the way he talks, the strength his words transmit , and the guts he shows describing her life and affirming that she’s not happy, is one of my favorite scenes in the film. We can just guess what the girl might think, but we’re never sure, the fact is that she accepts his invitation. When Travis is with Betsy, he seems sure of himself, charming, everything he says makes sense but…at some point, his sick side has to appear, and he fucks it up when taking her to a porn cinema on their first serious date. What can you expect? Travis’ detachment from society prevents him from knowing what a woman should be given at that time.
Her immediate rejection means hope is gone, she’s like anyone else, therefore the world is doomed to fail unless he does something actively. And of course, Palantine’s statements mean nothing now.
Thus, Bickle enters into a downward spiral, his obsession for cleaning the streets becomes his main target, and staying focused on his purpose, he starts training, buys arms, invents devices for improving results, and thinks of himself as in an undercover agent on a mission. He’s not fantasizing anymore, this time is for real, and he’s determined to do something.
“Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the
scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up. Here is.”
And not only that, he also wants to take Iris back to her family, so she can live a normal life, something he’s not even doing. It’s very contradictory, he’s not in touch with his parents, and has not a proper life, but Iris MUST have this chance, and get back to the right track. He’d sacrifice for her happiness, and will become his savior, and for that, he will have to defeat Sport, the pimp, the incarnation of the evil and the corrupted human being.
Thus, once all this said, who we have here? Travis is a vigilante, insane enough as to pull the trigger. Most of people have the very same ideas, especially when surrounded by a suffocating and unbearable society all you can see is wrong. Sometimes you think, yeah, I’d take a gun and retire so many assholes in this world…well similar kind of talk. I’m not saying this is the right solution, I do not consider myself an avenging nor violent person at all. But in Taxi Driver we are standing in front of an insane and filthy NYC, American society was deeply wounded because of many mistakes and tragedies, you name it, the dark shadow of Vietnam was present for too long, many issues difficult to take care of and overcome. You see that everyday and you get sick of it.
Taxi Driver is just a statement of discontent, a portrait of the decay and decadence of America, and the willing to put an end to that, taking a mentally disordered guy, probably a psychopath, as the narrator of such situation, playing with duality, in the sense that, you can agree on what he does, despite his way, and at the same time you can justify his actions by admitting he was insane.
Taking a look at the script, an experience I fully recommend, and of course, focusing on narration and dialogues, you realize this film is one of this kind. Continuing on my affirmation of this film being a statement and a critic against the current social situation in that time, this film has a sentence-to-be-framed (and quoted) every 30 seconds. So meaningful, and so real, I discovered myself shocked. Those off-voice scenes with the car moving though streets and junctions those jazzy tunes are so evoking…
I’m currently living downtown in Barcelona. It’s weird so filthy this city is. Right behind emblematic places you find the worst of the city, just as in Taxi Driver, pimps, whores, junkies, people dealing, tons of thieves and a sense of danger mostly noticeable at nights. Somehow I understand Travis’ need everything should be clean and although I find this city very attractive, I’m realizing is turning into something I don’t really like. How can this be stopped and redirected to normal? This is the government and local authorities responsibility, but at the end of the day you conclude nothing is being done. Frustration is the feeling.
With Taxi Driver, Scorsese concludes his portrait of his beloved New York, turned into a nest of crap, delivering an icon, Travis Bickle, a dangerous nutter who is wisest than many, and who is aware and affected by the way everything is tending to become. It’s up to you to think whether he’s a hero, or just a psycho, what it’s true is that he will never let you indifferent.
It’s been 35 years since Taxi Driver shocked the world, and still its message is valid.