“Taxi Driver” is one of those intriguing films to watch and discuss for cinema and Scorsese fans. You can go on a forum, you can have conversations about this film and each person can give you their interpretation of what “Taxi Driver” mean to them.
I didn’t grow up in New York City during the ’70s but I did grow up during that time to know that the city had some major problems and was overtaken by prostitutes, adult theaters and it was pretty much a seedy area unlike today’s New York City which has been cleaned up considerably since the making of this film.
But for many Americans, Travis Bickle, despite being one of the most vile villains in cinema history, he was an anti-hero that some people could identify with. This is a man who is lonely, isolated and really wants to fit into society but he can’t. He wants to be with women he can save, but they don’t want to be saved.
When Travis meets Betsy, he talks about the look on her face of not being happy of where she works and you have this sense that he really wants to help her get away from what he sees as scum of the city and brings her into his world. But his world is even seedier as he spends most of his life driving a taxi and watching porn and the only thing he can think of as a first date with Betsy is taking her out to an adult movie.
And it’s this uneasiness of this character that attracts the viewer because we’ve all felt that loneliness that Travis has felt, but we deal with it. For him, he sinks into the darkness of isolation and this version of Sir Lancelot has been corrupted by the city.
But what makes “Taxi Driver” work effectively is director Martin Scorsese and his relationship with Robert De Niro. Both men developed a tremendous working relationship since the 1973 film “Mean Streets” and with De Niro being a fantastic method actor, Scorsese allows De Niro to own the scene and those actors who are around him, to feed off this character.
In interviews which you will see on this Blu-ray release, when actress Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster or actors Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle or Harvey Keitel were around De Niro, what they got was Travis Bickle. Shepherd used the word “frightening” during her scenes with De Niro, Foster talked about how she didn’t understand until later in life of why De Niro had this intense style of acting and Brooks would talk about how he never even talked to De Niro because De Niro during the shooting of the film was Travis Bickle.
Scorsese and De Niro utilized improvisation to make the film seem real. Foster talked about how they would continually rehearse their scenes and once she felt that they got it down, he would do something different and throw something that was not on the script and it’s that magic that De Niro was able to get from the talent he worked with.
Another fantastic sign of that working relationship between De Niro and Scorsese is the taxi scene in which both men are improvising their scene but for Travis Bickle’s character, he remains quiet, looking at his rear-view mirror and watching the silhouette of the man’s wife from a window at an apartment. You can tell that Travis Bickle’s ticking time-bomb is about to go off. It’s that creepy quietness by Bickle that makes that scene so effective.
It may not have been written that way but it’s what De Niro felt was right for Travis Bickle and it’s what we got on the film.
But alongside Scorsese and De Niro, you have to give writer Paul Schrader a major nod for creating this Bressonian script with so much efficacy. Written during a time when Schrader had broken up with his girlfriend, he became isolated and also found himself a different person after that breakup, which helped develop the character of Travis Bickle.
He knew that loneliness and it’s that same loneliness that many people go through during a major change in their personal life. It’s how you get out of it and live life to its fullest that matters but for very few, they are slowly get stuck in that darkness. Travis Bickle is a man who is unable to be part of that normal society.
You can discuss this character with a lot of people. Was it the Vietnam War that changed him for the worse? Was it the continual inundation of that New York’s seediness and that he has to be with these people 12 hours a day? Does it even matter?
We just know that Travis Bickle is one fucked up man and in many ways, is a perfect example of what happens when one gets lost in their own loneliness and may it be the people like Bickle or John Hinckley, Jr., there is so much pain in the world that some people just don’t know how to deal with it. And the fact that people got to see a taste of this anti-hero was absolutely surprising but at the same time, intriguing and entertaining.
There is little doubt that Martin Scorsese has created a masterpiece.
“Taxi Driver” is recommended!