Film: Taxi Driver
Director: Martin Scorsese
Year Released: 1976
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepard, Harvey Keitel
Available on Netflix Streaming: No
Available on Cuevana: Yes
Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man… June 8th. My life has taken another turn again. The days can go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, there is a change.
Finding just one quote to sum up the entire sentiment of Taxi Driver proved extremely difficult because of the film’s many layers and multifaceted quality (look at the title of this review if you have doubts). However, this line spoken by main character Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro, seems to encompass the general progression of the basic intrigue of the film. Director Martin Scorsese first introduces us to the life of Travis Bickle and the environment that surrounds this man. The interaction between nighttime New York City and Bickle seems simple at first, but as the film moves forward, the viewer finds an increasingly complex dynamic in the psyche of Bickle. Then suddenly, as Bickle so daftly states, “a change.” The nature of this change cannot fully be stated nor understood. The motivations are arguable but the reasons (be they rational or irrational) lie solely within the mind of Travis.
And that is exactly what this film deals with: the mind and psyche of a lonesome New York City cab driver. He is an interesting figure; not because his life or personality is particularly captivating, but because he possesses both elements of a hero or a villain. What exactly does that make Travis Bickle then? It is difficult to say, and the film manages to convey that both literally on screen and also under the surface through subtle implications. Regardless of his character, Bickle does resolve to fight back against the scum that he reviles. That is his outlet against the monotony and the incurable, painful insomnia that plagues his entire existence. He is a misanthrope in all senses of the word. He has neither family nor friends. He is not well socialized nor does he attempt to become so. His thoughts are expressed solely in his diary. But Bickle’s ruminations border on a much more dangerous edge than simply misanthropic.
His thoughts soon become violent. The famous “You talking to me?” scene captures this transformation beautifully. Under the right pressures, a man can be pushed to commit a great number of terrible or heroic acts (they can be construed either way). The idea of legacy plays a key role in Taxi Driver. The imprint that we leave on our lives matters significantly to many of us. Will the world remember us as heroes or villains? Saints or demons? Or perhaps completely unmemorable. DeNiro’s constant monologues reveal this anxiety as he demonstrates his will and desire to stand out as one man who stood up against the filth and the scum.
Having said that, Bickle cannot be well understood without understanding the “filth and the scum” that drives him for much of the film. The constant reminders and backdrop of the presidential primary, which has the potential to change the face of New York City, play a huge role in the film. Senator Palantine stands in stark contrast to Bickle; a man going through the political institution to enact change. Not much is ever said about Palantine’s policies (conveyed through Bickle’s ignorance) but he serves as a higher being in the film. He is everything that Travis cannot be. Having said that, this contrast makes it difficult and maybe even impossible for Palantine to actually get rid of all the crime and misconduct in New York City. Bickle perceives the problem through a different lens and acts out violently to make his point clear.
Scorsese does a masterful job of establishing the disgusting back alleys of seventies New York City, and his visual scheme always displays some form of corruptibility. The sidewalks are littered with non-amiable pimps, junkies, whores, degenerates and everything in between. However, Bickle finally gains a friend in the form of young Jodie Foster’s character, Iris. This relationship is extremely complex and develops in a rather interesting manner. Through Iris, Bickle attempts to gain some form of redemption.
The music in the film concentrates mostly around the main theme that I posted earlier. It is a wonderful, recurring theme that places the viewer in a myriad of emotional states (much like Travis). The true magic of Scorsese’s work here is not necessarily the quality of the music (though it is awesome). What truly makes each moment when it plays amazing is how Scorsese manages to pull so many sentiments from the music, depending on the visual context of each scene. Take the beginning scene where it plays and compare it to the end scene where it similarly plays. The imagery is quite similar here actually, yet each scene is respectively infused with contrasting ideas. Here, one can begin to see how imagery and sound truly come together to push a certain message or feeling. The atmosphere depends heavily on this marriage in Taxi Driver. And it makes the film so successful. Earlier, in my review of Do the Right Thing, I commented how the jazz sounds were far too one-note for me. One could possibly wonder how I do not feel the same way about Taxi Driver. Fair question. It is the character development and integral quality of the jazz that makes it not only bearable in Taxi Driver but extremely enjoyable. It is a film that depends on its sound as much as its characters and imagery. Diary of a Taxi Driver is a particularly interesting piece on the soundtrack. All the songs complement each other very nicely and it makes for an all together solid soundtrack. Not necessarily music I would listen to by itself (which has not been the case for most of the music I”ve posted before) but it adds an essential element to the film.
Undoubtedly, Taxi Driver has an indescribable quality to it. Some do not know how to feel when the film ends. The ending I will say is rather breathtaking and truly manages to round out the entire film nicely. This is one of those films that stays with you. Bickle is not necessarily relateable but there are parts of him that we see in ourselves. His frustration, his desperation, his longing, his despair. Without DeNiro’s performance, Taxi Driver would simply not be the same. A character and a film that speaks about so many issues. It manages to do it all perfectly. It is that rare form of art that operates on a entertainment level as well. Masterpiece does not even begin to describe it.
Some of the music: