Monday, September 9, 2013

611. Taxi Driver (1976)

Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Paul Schrader
Main Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel
Click here to view the trailer


Okay, so I should probably explain why I've suddenly decided to do "Scorsese Week" with absolutely no hype or premeditation. This coming Friday night I will be joining the guys of the Big Kahuna Burger podcast to spew some of my cinematic knowledge and the topic will be Martin Scorsese. Yesterday, I received the list of the films the guys want to focus on and "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" were among the selected films. I figured I'd better catch up on both pictures and figured while I was at it, I might as well just make a week of it. For the record, this will more than likely be the final director tribute week, as there just aren't anymore very notable directors left from THE BOOK.

Anyway..."Taxi Driver"...

Travis Bickle: Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.

Travis Bickle: Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.

I'd like to think that by now, all of my fellow film buffs know the plot to "Taxi Driver", but I'll happily detail it for the kids. Robert De Niro IS Travis Bickle, a taxi driver (imagine that), working the streets of New York City and disgusted with society, with the things he sees working the graveyard shift as an insomniac cabbie. Early on. Travis occupies his mind with Betsy (Shepherd), a beautiful blonde who works at the campaign headquarters of a presidential hopeful. He is able to woo her for a while, before fouling up and taking her to a dirty movie as their second date. She dumps him and thoughts begin to flood his psyche. He purchases an arsenal of guns and spends a lot of time at the shooting range and building elaborate, spring-loaded holsters. His plans are to kill the presidential hopeful that Betsy works for, Charles Palantine. However, before he goes through with that plan, he takes on another personal project: The project of getting twelve-year-old Iris (Foster) off the streets. Now a prostitute, Travis questions the girls motives and knows she must want more for herself. Her pimp Matthew (Keitel), however, won't let her go. 


Well, yeah, that's about it. It's not a movie that really gives a whole lot to detail, but rather gives a whole lot to think about when the lights come up and you start filing out of the theater. The first time I saw "Taxi Driver", I didn't care much for it. It was definitely one of those films that, for me, took repeated viewings before I was finally able to peel back the layers and it's become one of those movies where every time I watch it, I get new ideas and pick up on new things. I've come to realize that the film isn't just about a nutty hack who cruises the streets. That it's probably the creation of one of the most interesting characters in all of film - Travis Bickle, of course. Not only is "Taxi Driver" a fantastic piece of character development, but also a superbly written (by Paul Schrader) inner conflict, probably the best inner conflict ever committed to celluloid. Here's my breakdown of the events in the film, in handy bullet point form: 

*In the beginning Travis is kind of a pest. He's that guy that tries to talk to you while waiting in the checkout line, that you just try your hardest to avoid. You look the other way, because you know any minute this guy's going to start up about conspiracy theories or how to clean up the streets. If you're a woman and you're attractive, he might try to flirt with you, because Travis has a lot of pent up, sexual tension. We see this displayed when he tries to chat up the checkout girl at the concession counter, at the adult movie theater. At this point, Travis has ideas, but they're not much different than the ideas that cross through everyone's head. We all spout our opinions from time to time, "Man, these streets are full of nothing but hoodlums and dopers" or "Man, they really need to clean up this area, it's just awful". However, at this point, the ideas/opinions are only that...ideas and opinions. They mean something to him, but not enough for him to actually take charge...yet. It's also relevant at this stage in the film to notice the difference between Travis during his inner monologue and when he's interacting with others and speaking out loud. It's a different person. Travis can't seem to materialize the guy he wants to be, maybe doesn't quite know how to express himself the way he'd like.

*Then he meets Betsy and for the first time, he IS able to become that man that he only becomes when he's alone, in his own head. He's a smooth talker and he wins her over. She tells him she's never met anyone like him and of course she hasn't, because at this point, this Travis has never existed. For a while, he's totally normal. No more popping pills, no more rants about the trashy streets. But it doesn't last long at all. Travis fouls up and Betsy is gone. Travis loved her and we know this because of his demeanor when she shows interest. And when Betsy takes her would be love away from Travis and halts his love for her, Travis loses it. This is where those ideas and opinions begin to become a little bit more, something he might like to act on. So he purchases an arsenal of guns and a knife or two and starts to work out, get in shape, get ready to wage war on society. 

*The third stage in Travis' development is when he goes crazy, which I've pretty much already covered with the buying of the arsenal. You also see him shaving his head into a mohawk and plotting to kill the presidential candidate. This mental state is almost averted when he meets Iris and develops care for her. He doesn't love her, as he loved Betsy, but he definitely wants to help her. He sees a glimmer of innocence drowning in a sea of wretchedness. It is during this point in the film too that Travis is also walking a fine line between becoming what he loathes the most (a dredge of society) and wanting to destroy it. In the end, Travis abandons his plans to kill the presidential candidate, when he's almost caught and decides, instead, to save Iris. 

*The final stage of Travis' development, we only see for a few minutes. It's the end of the movie, when we find he hasn't been arrested, but rather, lauded as a hero. He was successful in rescuing Iris and returning her to her family in Pennsylvania. We see Travis one last time, when Betsy gets into his cab and though peering at her in the mirror a few times, he's able to resist and manages to drop her off without trying to rekindle that glimmer of what they had. You have to understand that while Travis and Betsy only had two dates, to him it was probably the most meaningful relationship with a woman this character has ever had. Travis drives off, leaving Betsy. Now we know he's okay, that he was able to successfully extinguish the demons that existed in his head. However, a quick glance into the rearview mirror and a change in the music cue, lets us know that the psyche of Travis may not be completely cured. A happy ending? I say no one knows for sure. 

RATING: 10/10  So there it is, broken down in handy bullet points, for your reading pleasure. I just love this film. It has special meaning to me now and I know that every time I watch it, hereafter, I'll only continue to appreciate it more and continue to uncover new ideas. 


September 9, 2013  7:15pm


  1. I skipped over the spoiler alert because I might be the last one on the planet that hasn't seen this. I promptly threw it in my Netflix queue.

    1. Hopefully you enjoy it!! Feel free to swing back around and let me know what you thought.

  2. .. Firstly, a big hello to Brittani.. It's good for me (as well as for Andrew) to see other posts.

    There is no denying this is a great film and well deserving of it's place in THE BOOK..

    But i struggle to 'like' this film, and certainly can never see myself enjoying watching it.

    I can, and often do, cope with films that have disagreeable stories, characters, events. Films show life, and life is not always 'nice'. If we only watched films with 'nice' things in them.. that would be awful.. permanently trapped in some pastel Disney world. I like dark films that explore the corners of the human condition. Where lead characters are deeply flawed, Heroes are not that heroic, and the bad guys are more than simple paint-by-numbers bad guys. If you want that, go watch a John Wayne movie, and you know what I think about that
    But this film..?
    I'm not sure if I agree with your reading of the ending.. That he is now 'OK'.
    Actually, re-reading with more care, you don't say that.. you see that maybe he isn't, so sorry for that...
    Society.. or at least the Media, have made a Hero out of him.. but I'm still not sure i feel any safer with Travi on the streets rather than the pimp.

    1. There's also an alternate theory on the ending, which is that Travis may just be imagining the ending and that he was actually arrested and that the ending (him being painted as a hero) is just a fantasy of his, from his prison cell. Of course, that's just speculation and there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that this is true, but I guess if that's what some people want to believe, more power to them.

  3. Now that is a neat and interesting thought, a good idea.. and would work well for me.. if there was even a hint - some small clue.
    I'm all for alternative theories of endings.. I love to read about them and see if they fit.. but I do need there to be at least a little to hang the idea on.. not just 'Hey, wouldn't it be great if...'

    (In 'The sound of Music' .. Maria is actually a British spy sent over to pluck renowned Austrian scientist and his plans for a revolutionary new explosive from the jaws of Gestapo agent, the Baroness.. Actually no, even that still wouldn't make it any better an experience..)

    Sorry... back on topic... if anyone can suggest clues to support the theory, I'd be delighted to know them..
    For now I will have to stick with believing that the Media have created a popular hero out of a dangerous guy.. who is now more of a (potential )monster than (some of) the bad guys - because Travis now believes what he did was right and proper.. and that society approves of him.

    1. But maybe that IS the message/idea. That not every hero is a hero and that we have the tendency to build people up into something they're not (ie. "Being There"). I don't know...but the fact that we can debate about it, is one reason I love this movie.

  4. Nice reply Andrew... I very much see where you are coming from on that...
    Thanks.. more to ponder on..


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