Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

“Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the c***s, the dogs, the filth, the sh*t. Here is a man who stood up”


Amongst the many directors I admire, Martin Scorsese is up there. Having watched ‘Taxi Driver’ recently (followed by Scorsese’s full music video to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ starring Wesley Snipes and written by Richard ‘The Wire’ Price.) I decided to follow the viewing with a read of Amy Taubin’s study, published in the BFI classics series. I still have to finish the book (its very slim so it shan’t be long…) so I may add a little to this review if she raises something in the closing chapter that affects my perspective. I first watched the film years ago and so this was only my second viewing but I think the next step is ‘Mean Streets’ if I want to get an idea of Scorsese’s early days. Nevertheless, one thing Taubin mentioned that I think is interesting is how Herrman – the composer – worked on many Hitchcock films and Scorsese, a Hitchcock fan himself, working with Herrman (becoming the final score Herrman wrote before his death) on a very dark film signaled the start of a new era in Hollywood, a Hollywood that ultimately faded away after Hitchcock, Ford and all the other pre-1970’s directors. (Also interesting to note is that 1976 was the year Hitchcock himself released ‘Family Plot’, whereby the score was composed by the up-and-coming, pre-Star Wars, pre-Indiana Jones, John Williams)

What I reckon… (Summary is pretty much within this chunk…)

This is a film that, in my opinion, gets better the more you watch it. So many layers and issues raised about inner-city life, loneliness, faith, passion, desire – even love. What is most interesting about this is the perspective we view it from, and how this perspective cannot be trusted either. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is a sociopath – he is trusted with peoples lives, but despises these lives he controls. He moves around a city viewing the ‘scum’ out there on the streets, the ‘scum’ that he, in effect, is a part of. Not that he knows – he sees himself above all that. He sees himself as some sort of God. Not only does Scorsese show us this part of his life from above (from coffee’s and the fantastic long-shot at the end as we pan above the bloodbath Bickle leaves) – as if looking down on everyone and everything, but also Bickle himself, narrating his views and- ultimately – decides to control people’s lives himself – telling Iris (Foster) what she should do with her life and then murdering Sport (Kietel) and his brothel buddies at the finale.

Bickle’s an insomniac who wanders the streets at night – on foot, in the car – so he feels he might as well ‘get paid for it’ by being a taxi driver. A profession ideally suited for people who want to people-watch, day in, day out. He goes t the dodgy ends of NYC – an area where most taxi drivers are not so keen to go, but he wants to know about it, he wants to comment on it and bath in the dirty mush of NYC, the muggy foundations of NYC.

Split into three acts – the first act shows Travis attempt to woo Betsy (a campaign worker for Sen. Charles Palantine), after the coffee he seems to be successful and they go to the movies but, unfortunately Travis genre of film was not taken into consideration. Travis likes, and often watches, porn. The angelic ‘untouchable’ Betsy (Shepherd) has been tainted. To some extent abused and defiled by his conscious decision to take her to a porn movie. The second act is his attempt to change, building his body up and his plans to assassinate Sen. Charles Palantine – but, ultimately fails (this recurring theme of Travis failing at building a relationship with Betsy and failing to assassinate are all small concerns that – bit-by-bit – build up to a crescendo of frustration and anger towards the world from Travis’ eyes…) and then, the final act, we are introduced formally to Iris who – akin to Betsy – Travis wants to ‘save’ from the streets. A destroyed girl he wants to turn into an angel. He needs to save her and he believes that he is some sort of saviour and seems to destroy all the horror surrounding Iris – a bloodbath in the dingy flat, Sport murdered, etc.

Apparently Schrader based the character on him during a bad period in his life (y’think) – that’s immense. He was squatting in an ex-girlfriends apartment spending money in porno theatres and had no friends – so alone. But then he read Arthur Bremer’s personal diary (Bremer shot George Wallace – a man who aimed at becoming president…) which seemed to have a similar attitude to his own – but, I guess, a lot more twisted and corrupted and – ultimately – mad. Nevertheless, the parallels is what makes this film so personal and relate-able – while also so twisted and sinister also.

While Bernard Herrman’s score is very interesting – the depressive two chord and four chord change, the idea of impending doom and the growth of frustration and anger inside Bickle is simply breathtaking – while the saxophone seems to create this beautiful theme that contrasts against the dirty streets and horrible vision of NYC we see.

This film would go great as a double-bill with Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’. Though ‘Fight Club’ creates a false persona, ‘Taxi Driver’ still deals with the dirty, depressive view of a corrupt society that breeds the people that snap into insanity. Which reminds me of ‘Falling Down’ also. I think De Niro’s performance is simply so convincing – you pity him because you know he is in control of the situation. This anti-hero also feels like you might meet him yourself, though it is quite clear that mentally he has problems and is ultimately so self-involved. Never aware of the options available to him – akin to many post-Vietnam soldiers. What do you do after such an event?

Because the whole film cuts so close to the bone, it has the edge of fear and horror. The eyes lingering in the car mirror and the sense throughout the film about what Travis will do – when will he crack? His not-so-subtle racism is also a part of this which is so difficult to watch also. In a world that has become so diverse – whereby, in my opinion, racism has become hidden as opposed to being openly condoned. Travis drives through the streets rarely conversing with people – but we know his thoughts and his attitude to the African-American characters in his head. The real fear and horror is the possible parallels this might have with people in society today – violent, dangerous racist sociopaths who will inevitably crack at some point …

One comment

  1. Great review Simon. May I suggest an alternative double-feature partner for the film, namely 'Observe and Report'. It's basically a dark comedy version of taxi driver, playing with the insanity of a character such as Travis existing in the real world. Where 'Taxi Driver' makes you stay with the escalating frustration of Travis, 'Observe and Report' tries to subvert it via the varying perspectives other characters have on the main character. It doesn't go into as much depth as 'Taxi Driver', but offers similar conclusions to ponder (e.g. the acceptance of vigilante behaviour in modern society). Mini-review/rant over, lol.

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