Taxi Driver (1976)
by Logan Burd
Taxi Driver (1976)
”Are you talkin’ to me?” Taxi Driver wasn’t exactly the viewing experience I expected, but it was pretty darn close.
Mentally unwell veteran Travis (Robert DeNiro) has just gotten a job as a late-night New York City taxi driver, due to the fact that he never sleeps at night anyway. The job begins to get to him, but not as much as I would have liked to see. This movie had all the makings of a great psychological thriller–Travis could have had hallucinations, outbursts, or other crazy symptoms, but director Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas) kept it fairly low-key. Anyway, as he notices the city around him, he begins to notice a beautiful young campaign worker, Betsy (Cybill Shepard). Then, he witnesses an incident involving a young hooker, Iris (Jodie Foster). As his diary entires turn in to voiceover dialogue, we begin to hear what Travis is feeling. Eventually, thoughts of the two women drive him to do a series of unstable things, which ultimately lead to a climactic scene of blood and insanity.
“Are you talking to me?”
While the story is slick, original, and totally Scorsese (it even sounds like an adjective), it lacks in some areas for me. Reading the plot synopsis, one would imagine that much of the story would be about Jodie Foster’s character, Iris. In fact, she only appears for about twenty minutes of the entire movie, and almost all of it is in the last thirty minutes or so. Foster was great as a 14-year-old (playing the 12-year-old prostitute), she had the same maturity and beautiful voice as she does today, and she deserved more time.
DeNiro is great, he owns the role and essentially becomes Taxi Driver as most of us know it. Cinematography is also wonderful, with newfangled shots and angles, making the film seem ahead of its time. Speaking of that, the movie got me thinking of an interesting, irrelevant, unrelated question. Think of the steam that rises from NYC manholes in the dark of night. Is it filthy or beautiful?? Watching the movie, the manhole steam seems to contribute with the filth and foulness of the city, reminding me of muggings, rape, and other city corruptions. But later on, a revolutionary shot showed DeNiro’s taxi driving through the steam, and as the steam blew away, and returned, it seemed to take on a completely different feel. It began to have a classy, Singin’ in the Rain element. The jazzy saxophone music that comprises the first half of the movie didn’t hurt that notion. The soundtrack, at least toward the beginning, reminded me of Billy Joel’s New York, like the one described in “New York State of Mind.”
Foster (middle) and DeNiro (right) in Taxi Driver
The dialogue, written by Paul Schrader (Raging Bull) was good, but choppy at times, jumping from topic to topic without much reason. Perhaps it was due to Travis’s unstable mind, but it seemed not choppy enough for mental instability, but too choppy to be deemed normal. Maybe I just think too much.
Many reviews I have seen talk about the haunting gore that Taxi Driver makes use of in its final scenes. Reviews may make the gore seem pervasive, but in fact the bulk of the blood comes in the movies last 20 minutes or so. Don’t watch this movie for the gore, and don’t skip this movie for fear of it. The movie is so much more than what is shown. Seen through a cultural lens, it examines veterans, prostitution, New York City, and post-Vietnam America.
Another way to look at the film is through the eyes of John Hinckley Jr., who used this film as motive for shooting at President Ronald Reagan–so much so that at his trial, the defense showed the entirety of the film as evidence. It’s really a fantastic story, definitely worth a look. Interesting in terms of connections to the film is that Hinckley used a .22 gun to shoot at Reagan, while Travis used a .44 magnum as his weapon of choice. With obsessive serial killers such as Hinckley (he once watch Taxi Driver 15 times in a row on a continuous loop, which would have lasted over 28 hours) small details often mean a lot. Here is just one of many sites that discuss the impact of Taxi Driver on Hinckley.
Taxi Driver is an interesting look at mental instability, hookerdom in NYC, and should be seen.
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