Martin Scorsese’s 1976 epic Taxi Driver is one of those films that take more than one viewing to absorb it all to understand. I think I was in my early 20’s the first time I watched the movie, I was first struck by the grim realism of New York City 1976.
The brutal wild west style shoot out at the end of the picture, where the dim putrid lighting, and the bizarre slowing down and speeding up of the action creates a very off-center, and visceral viewing experience during that horrible climax.
Most people who give negative reviews of this film seem to miss the underlying psychological issues and how they relate to the social behaviors of those around Travis. The paranoid delusional Travis (Robert De Niro), and his descent into oblivion because of Betsy’s rejection. Many everyday reviewers are unable to relate to, or empathize with the subject, doesn’t touch a nerve I suppose?
You can empathize with this man’s humiliation and despair. The awkward way Travis courts Betsy (Cybil Shepherd), then being sternly rejected by her, and rightfully so. Betsy’s values system was so different than the system Travis had. Any normal guy would know you don’t take a date to a dirty movie, right?
Deep down inside Travis is a good man, he wants to do right. he wants to save the damsel in distress. He is actually an incurable romantic; fails miserably at it, expressing his feelings, even though he does have a knack for making the first move toward Betsy. He tries desperately to save her from what he perceives as her mundane life, and then when that fails, he focuses his saving efforts on Iris (Jodie Foster) the child prostitute.
Saving Iris becomes the focus. Unfortunately, while this is going on, Travis decides to get back at Betsy for her rejection of him by trying to kill the political candidate she is supporting, Senator Palentine (Leonard Harris).
Taxi Driver is one of the most chilling films I’ve seen
I realize Taxi Driver is not a horror movie, but isn’t it scary as hell, even scarier today? The realism of a 1970’s New York underbelly, and seeing the film through the prism of today’s sensationalized news media adds an extra bit of trepidation.
Somebody’s out there ready to snap, and it does unsettle you. That’s what Taxi Driver illustrates so well. Here is an average guy that gets rejected a time or two, starts thinking unpleasant thoughts, and obviously is suffering from some sort of untreated anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder “perhaps from the Vietnam War”? He then gets progressively more and more paranoid, Travis IS a ticking time bomb.
Scorsese adds a heavy dose of irony however: By pure luck, Travis turns out the hero in the end with the freeing of Iris the prostitute after the OK Corral style shootout with the pimps and johns.
Don’t think for a minute I didn’t notice the irony in how the now doting Betsy, approves of Travis now that he is a big hero for the public’s consumption. Betsy is now perfectly willing to overlook her value system, to be near the now media-hyped hero Taxi Driver.
Taxi Driver is one of those films that you must have lived a little to understand. I don’t think an 18-year-old living at home with a limited amount of life experience could grasp the depth of this film and what it’s saying about the human condition. Believe me, it’s a deep film.
First Scene from Tax Driver
Here’s Travis busting the supervisors chops, telling him he has a “clean” conscience when asked about his driving record. This is the first time you are told Travis is a Marine, and he has a clean conscience? Likely eluding to the Vietnam War and the things that may have transpired there leading to post traumatic stress disorder?
Remember the Marine martial arts style self-defense move on Betsy’s co-worker (Albert Brooks) when he tried to usher him out of the campaign headquarters?
This is very skilful foreshadowing of the shaved head warrior Travis would morph into.
*Image used with permission via Amazon.com: Taxi Driver.*
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Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.