ming movie reviews

in about 100 words or less

Taxi Driver (1976)

USA 113m, Color
Director: Martin Scorsese; Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle

kTaxi Driver is a surprisingly entertaining film despite its subject matter, an exploration of loneliness and depression through its main character, Travis Bickle – a Vietnam veteran who becomes increasingly alienated within, and hostile toward, a society which he feels has betrayed him. Di Niro’s performance as the psychotic Bickle is outstanding as is Scorsese’s direction which provides us with a most realistic and disturbing understanding of Bickle’s fractured worldview. Especially effective is the surreal portrayal of Bickle’s hyper-violent rampage which supplants the viewer into the scene in such a most disturbing and memorable way. If there is a flaw in this movie, it is the somewhat lengthy continuation and over-explanation of Bickle’s hero status as a result of his “rescue” of the under-aged prostitute (Klaus Ming November 2009).

3 comments on “Taxi Driver (1976)

  1. Derrick

    Great movie, yeah i agree , the screenplay and production didn’t quite mesh the way i would have liked it too. But one could argue that its this flaw that gives it a unique quality and tone and is probably one of the big underlying factors in why its such a cult movie.

    I think the overall feeling and message the movie gave to me was the displacement and isolation young vets must have felt once they were back from the war. Especially young veterans that came back and settled, or tried to, within a high violence concentrated urban environment.

    I feel the fact that Travis served in Vietnam is one of the most important character keys to help the viewer understand his, at many times contradicting actions and life philosophy.

    If one served in Vietnam at a very young age like Travis did (he’s 26 when the movie takes place so he would be in his early 20s in NAM) the individual would learn very warped adult understanding on life and become self aware within a very violent and confusing environment.

    We know that Travis was “honorably discharged” and sent back into western society (NY city,late 70s) where one could argue was also a very violent and confusing environment, a place a shell shocked vet shouldn’t isolate himself.

    Throughout the first part of the film we see Travis try and settle into a “normal” life. He is constantly trying to give his life meaning and purpose. He accepts on taxi fairs no one else will. He hopes this will give some level of uniqueness and bravery to his role and placement within his work. He makes a lot of money doing so but never seems to find the life purpose hes looking for. We notice he is always quiet, reserved and never carries a gun to his dangerous fairs and locations. I see this as another important early aspect to his character. Failing his elusive goal of looking for a purpose on dangerous fairs he turns his attention to Betsy. It seems all he wants to do is make her happy. He sets up “normal ” date things for them to do. Unfortunately he has no idea what “normal” date things are considering his adult life up to this point. It was spent in Vietnam and isolated in a cab, at night within the worst parts of NY. He states on several occasions that he doesn’t know how to interact with society and that he doesn’t know much about normal social interests such as current music, movies and politics. Pop culture and society in general are foreign to him. He understands his failing and this understating is probably why he is obsessed with trying to find his elusive goal of “being normal, with a normal title”.

    Failing his attempt with Betsy he turns back to the only way of understanding and interacting with people he knows. One of war time violence and confusion. Added to this is his lonely, isolated, insomnia induced mental illness that’s ever nurtured and growing throughout the progression of the picture. All his actions from this point onward I feel are not from sane judgment. He is completely irrational in all his actions from the girl rejection to the end.

    Within the middle of the flick I feel a very important dialog takes place between him and a fellow cabbie outside of their dinner. Travis outright asks for guidance and help. He basically asks, what is he supposed to do with his life? How does he become something and get a title? How does he grow into a normal life in such an a-normal environment? His friend basically states your actions make you who you are. Repeated actions give you your “title”.

    At the beginning of the flick Travis states “someday a real rain will come and wash off these streets” He chooses to self proclaim himself the one that’s going to “wash” the streets clean. I think he directs his obsession at Palantine because he sees Palantine as representing whats wrong with NY city. Palantine campaign is “WE are the people” and or “we ARE the people” Again Travis distorts this information through his shell shocked brain as “assassinate Palantine to solve the city filth problem and make a name/title for yourself”.

    Failing his assassination attempt he focuses his attention on Jodie Foster’s character Once again going back to a somewhat “normal” caring individual who truly seems to want to help her get out of the environment they are stuck in. “Don’t you want a normal 13 year old girl life? I’m not square, your the one that’s square” He gives his “unneeded” money a purpose by giving a lot of it to Iris. I also feel that his viewing money as unneeded is a character flaw adding to his unhappiness within his society, seeing money as unneeded in 70s America was atypical.

    Falling back into violence he delivers the vigilante ending of the movie, again mirroring his environment and background. Fighting fire with fire because nothing else up to that point worked. Its only after the incident do we see him get a sense of understanding on his life and placement within his society. He downplays his title as “hero” the media has made him out to be. Hes at this point a normal cabbie, who seems to be happy with his life and were it is. It seems like his surviving the extreme shooting and helping save Iris made him achieve the normal (what he views as normal) title he wanted.

    Why did it take such an extreme act/s to get him the piece of mind he needed? I think the big key in understanding that is reflecting back on that eras movie history. Writers and directors take on Nam and developing the hard boiled hero that was beginning to take form in the mid 70’s mixed with winding down hippie culture portrayed on film, helps me at least, put the somewhat chaotic storyline of Taxi Driver and Travis in order.

    In First Blood we see Rambo act very much the same way as Travis. Rambo’s endlessly searching for a elusive normal life or understanding on the world that made him. He gets frustrated to the point of violence when he comes to realize he cannot fit into the new changes America has undergone after Nam. He was cheated out of an adulthood and title. “Over there there was a code, I watch your back you watch mine, over here there’s nothing, over there I was in charge of million dollar equipment, over here I can’t even hold down a job parking cars”.

    Trying to find life understanding and order in an America that doesn’t have those answers was a central theme running through a lot of 70s and 80s flicks.

    On a final note, Check out Death Sentence, a movie that came out a few years back. I liken it to Travis now with a family and a suburb life going back into his Taxi Driver days.

  2. klausming

    While Di Niro played a disenfranchised veteran, and his viewpoint was the focus of this movie, I think that his shattered worldview was only a part of the story, and that city itself, especially the most dangerous parts, can be seen as the other main character which Bickle knows best how to interact with.

    In this regard, Scorsese may have been making a statement about the wretched state of the city – a pretty damning statement on the conditions, if someone as damaged as Bickle recognized the need to clean it up!

    I also think that Bickle’s actions, while irrational to most, would have seemed completely ration from his own perspective – which was altered by his experience in Vietnam and ironically misunderstood by the press the the family of the prostitute.

    In the end, I think that Taxi Driver was more about alienation than a political statement.

  3. Derrick

    good points.

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This entry was posted on 11/16/2009 by in 1001 List, 1970s, All and tagged .
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