Taxi Driver (1976)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Release Date: February 8, 1976
Screenwriter: Paul Schrader
Starring: Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Robert DeNiro
Connection is one of the essential aspects of life that keeps us sane. Without human interaction, there is no potential for purpose in life and there is no reason to continue, and people will do anything to save themselves from that quietly threatening imprisonment of alienation. Martin Scorsese’s first masterpiece, Taxi Driver, is about darkness that consumes someone who fails to connect. Travis Bickle wanders the murky streets of New York City in search of an opportunity to exist. On February 8, 1976, Paul Shrader’s gritty script was immortalized on celluloid, the world met the scorching peak of Robert DeNiro, and Martin Scorsese burst into the cream with perfection on celluloid.
Scorsese directs this film in a way that places the audience on the rough streets of New York City, and you can almost smell the wet sidewalks, feel the steamy nights, and savor the drug-filled air. It captures the essence of the city, almost making it a character of its own. Scorsese also weaves the film from the mind of Travis Bickle. For example, turn the camera to show your world, focus on a fizzy glass to show you’re miles away, or slow down the shot to show your attraction to Betsy. The directing is truly masterful and correctly translates Paul Shrader’s astonishing script to the big screen.
Robert DeNiro worked 12 hours a day as a real taxi driver, in preparation for the position. He also studied mental illness and accents from the Midwest, and also lost a considerable amount of weight.
Robert DeNiro, possibly in his best collaboration with the equally legendary Scorsese, was the epitome of alienation, living his sleepless nights in a taxi as the iconic Travis Bickle. The Mohawk, the hungry eyes, the guns and the mirror. Travis Bickle was a character who burned the screen. DeNiro is intimately immersed in the character of Travis Bickle and each scene feels like you’re seeing a real person, so much so that it seems that DeNiro and Bickle share the same soul. Bickle’s eyes could melt steel and his gestures exude an appropriate mix of anxiety and kinetic actions. Every scene with Bickle is perfectly natural. At one point, he is a strangely charming man who tries to win a date with a political worker, and then turns into a volcanic disaster. In his famous mirror scene, Bickle raises his .44 magnum to the screen with a smile of relief mixed with destiny, and it’s truly terrifying that he has reached such a purpose in life for himself. DeNiro really bleeds out playing the character, and every drop is worth it; Travis Bickle is simply unforgettable.
Jodie Foster also does a tremendous job as the 12-year-old prostitute who is strangely delighted with her pimp and doesn’t want to be saved. Foster, like Iris, boldly plays a character who is innocent in some ways, but vulgar in others. Cybill Shepherd also does well as his main love interest, Betsy, as he comes across as the smart, socially involved guy with an alluring cuteness.
Travis Bickle is truly “God’s lonely man.” His story is a rich and bewildering study of the evil that human beings carry within, caused by a lack of human interaction. The entire film can provoke an intellectual debate about the psychology of the human condition, without the need for special effects or flashy tactics. The end is also one of the most suggestive covers of any movie. Whether the ending is a dream or not, you get the feeling that it doesn’t really matter because the last look from his burning eyes gives off the feeling that even if he finds a place in society through love and friendship, it will only be momentary, like everything else in life. In a long enough timeline, alienation prevails, and everything that suppressed it earlier will be no better than mere illusions; that’s the scariest and most enlightening realization of the movie.
It can be too dark, complex, or even depressing for some. I suggest you watch it on a day when things are not going too well, as you can identify more with the proper mindset. The film was released in 1976, so there will be a disconnect in some respects, but nothing too essential to dilute the film’s infinitely universal theme.