As a self-proclaimed movie buff, there are quite a few classics, that shamefully, I haven’t got round to seeing yet. However, this year I am going to right those wrongs and find the time to sit down and watch them! Taxi Driver was one of those on the list, and is the first one of 2014 that I have managed to cross off.
Yes, the film was released in 1976 … 17 years before I even entered this world, however from the status that this film has, it is pretty bad that it has taken me this long to get round to it. My problem is that, with these films that are held in such high regard, there is always potential for these to not live up to expectations that the reviews have given it. However, I am pleased to say that I loved Scorsese and De Niro’s 1976 hit.
Travis Bickle is an ex-US Marine, having been honourably discharged from service. He is lonely, depressed, and suffering from insomnia. And, so to give himself something to do while he is up, becomes a … you guessed it … Taxi Driver. De Niro’s Bickle is a complex character, battling with deep-seated psychological issues Travis just doesn’t want to be lonely any more, he needs a purpose, but at times struggles to keep himself on an even keel (understatement!) … he is a perfect anti-hero!
I must have seen and heard the line “Are you talking to me? You talkin to me?” a hundred times, and could tell you what film is was from before I had even seen the movie. However, it is the line after that I hadn’t heard, which is strange, because for me, it underpins the whole feeling of the film “You talkin to me? Well I’m the only one here”. This sums up Travis perfectly, he is the only one there, he has no-one else … he’s talking to himself in a mirror. He spends time writing in his diary, detailing his days and thoughts (which is also used as narrative to move the film along). He is mimicking conversation – human interaction is what he desperately craves, but is too misunderstood to really connect with anyone. He can’t connect with his fellow cab drivers, he fails miserably with a women he is infatuated with – Travis just needs somebody. What is quite unbelievable is that the entire dialogue in this scene was improvised by De Niro, he was apparently just told to talk to the mirror – so I guess it shows how much he understood this character to deliver that line, and why he gives such a fantastic performance in this film.
Unable to seemingly save himself – Travis must save someone else. This someone else being a 12-year-old Jodie Foster, who plays Iris, an underage prostitute, pimped out by her “lover” Matt. These scenes are particularly hard to bear, the thought of a girl that young being subject to that life and environment makes you feel sick, and you don’t want to think about it. But Scorsese makes you. The world can be a cruel, dark place and Taxi Driver shines a light on this in a number of instances throughout the film. Travis takes it upon himself to rescue this girl from this hell, no matter what it takes.
Bickle is described, by his female interest in the film, as a contradiction – and this is spot on. Travis spends his time frequenting pornographic film theatres, yet is repulsed by the sexuality of the inhabitants of New York – wishing for “Real rain” to come down and flush out the scum. He aligns himself to a presidential candidate who he wishes to win, only to turn on him, and then turn back. Paul Schrader truly created a fantastic character in Travis Bickle, and Taxi Driver allows us to step into his point of view for a couple of hours and see how he ticks. Helped especially with the direction of Martin Scorsese who uses the camera fantastically to show us what Bickle is thinking, and when he is detached from what is going on around him, without the need for dialogue. We truly are enabled to see behind Travis’ eyes. On a side note, if you are interested you should have a read about how Paul Schrader wrote this film and developed the characters – that is interesting stuff.
The film gets very violent and very dark, but is ultimately incredibly entertaining … although perhaps fascinating is a better word to describe it. If like me, and you are late to this film, I would highly recommend adding this one to your To Watch list. Having finally seen it, it is clear that this deserves to be held in the high regard that it is.