Travis Bickle’s not a happy man. He’s a Vietnam veteran who just got back in New York. He doesn’t really need money but he becomes a cab driver anyway because he can’t sleep at night. His mind is playing tricks on him, and he’s got some baaad ideas in his head. He hates the city, the filth, the street freaks. Yet he’s deep down in it. He drives endlessly around dirty ghettos, night after night, picking up people not always respectable. And when off duty, he hangs out in sleazy porn theaters, not for lust but to fight boredom. Life becomes brighter for a moment when Travis meets Betsy, a beautiful blonde who works for presidential candidate Palantine. Betsy accepts to go out on a date with Travis, but it’s a total mess and she leaves, disgusted. Travis grows more and more obsessed and bothered by the stench of the city at night. He’d like to wash the scum off the streets. He spends his money on guns and in his dirty apartment, he acts out violent confrontations in front of his mirror. At the same time, he meets Iris, a cute 12 year old whore who works for Sports, a badass pimp. Travis becomes convinced that he has to transform himself into a dispenser of justice. Take action. But who will be the target of his angst?
“I think someone should just take this city and just… Just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet.”
This is one great film, quite possibly the greatest of them all. The brilliant Paul Schrader script is very original, complex and thought-provoking. We really get into Bickle’s perturbed world. It’s the most intense character study I’ve seen. It’s all through Travis’ perspective. Every big city has problems, but it can’t be as bad as Travis thinks. He just tends to always get it all wrong, notably with women, and all this rejection is getting him real low. His alienation is increased even more by his tendency to focus on the bad stuff and block out the nice things. Travis could stroll his taxi in lighter hoods, but he forces himself to stay around 42nd, Times Square and Brooklyn because watching obsessively the things he hates feeds his anger. I also like how a lot is left unsaid (Travis’s youth, what happened to him in Nam, etc.), leaving us with the freedom to fill in the blanks.
“The days go on and on… They don’t end. All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.”
The film is masterfully directed by Martin Scorsese. Each scene is impressively crafted. Right from the first shots we sink in the movie’s eerie universe. The visual style is superbly bleak yet colorful and combined with Bernard Herrman’s haunting score, it helps us understand the nightmare Bickle is living all the better. “Taxi Driver” is the most absorbing, wrenching film I have ever seen. Even after many viewings, I still get sucked into this world, and sometimes it hits too close to home not to terrify me. I doubt I’d ever act out that violently, but I can understand and relate to Travis’ demons. I’ve found myself strolling the streets of my city on numerous occasions, and I too often can’t stand the stench, the scum, the hobos, the whores, the drug dealers… There was also a time when I met the girl of my dreams, and she rejected my love. I became a bit obsessive, blinded by my feelings, and I started having bad ideas. Fortunately I knew better, but I guess some people are too far gone in their alienation and loneliness to stop themselves from doing crazy things. Like John Steinbeck writes in “East of Eden”, if man wasn’t ever rejected by those he love, there would be less deranged people and there’d be no need for prisons.
“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. “
Robert De Niro gives an amazing performance, completely immersing himself in the twisted soul of Travis Bickle. He is unsettling yet strangely compelling. He has a very particular persona, and we can see it in the way De Niro impersonates him. He tells us as much if not more about his character by his body language than by his narration. De Niro’s performance is incredibly intense and full of nuances, and he achieves to transmit Travis’ wild mood swings in a natural way. Cybill Shepherd is great too as Betsy. She really looks like the angel in this hellish world. Jodie Foster is surprisingly good for her age. Iris is not an easy part, especially for a young girl, but she’s excellent. Harvey Keitel is very interesting as the despicable Sports, as are Peter Boyle as the articulate but unambitious Wizard and comedian Albert Brooks as the silly campaign organizer Tom.
“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.”
“Taxi Driver” is one of the best films ever made. Movies don’t get any better than this.
“Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.”