Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle (Robert DiNero) is a lonely cab driver working a night shift. He’s an insomniac. Cruising through the streets of NY City, he’s disgusted by the sleaze he finds. It drives him over the edge and so he goes wild as a nutty vigilante. 41 years later and this timeless film still has the power to unnerve and shock!
If I made my own list of top 100 films to see before you die, Taxi Driver would rank very highly. It’s flawless and for many people, this is Martin Scorsese’s best film. I can see why. It’s an electric experience with dark humour, thought-provoking themes and complex morals. On the first watch, it’s easy to miss many of the themes or overlook that it’s actually a tough examination of society and the individual. Do we support the actions of Travis Bickle? Are we supposed to feel what he feels? I’m not sure there is any one single answer to these questions.
Travis’ mad descent, in which he buys guns and runs into pimps in the underbelly of the Big Apple, remains filmmaking at its purest. DiNero is also at his very best, giving a wired performance that’s totally believable. His voiceover helps to make Travis an even more credible character, even relatable. We see things through his eyes and the film doesn’t ask us to approve of his warped views, but rather try and understand why his behaviour. As the audience, we step into his mindset and it’s both challenging and rewarding.
That moment when he talks to his own reflection in the mirror, saying the most famous line of Taxi Driver, “Are you talkin’ to me?‘, reveals his emotional state.
It speaks volumes about the overall theme of the film, which is, I believe loneliness. Travis desperately wants to feel like he belongs somewhere so he portrays himself as a hero, to make contact with the world. He is a hyper-exaggerated version of what a law-abiding person does to overcome their problems, and the way Scorcesse forces Travis upon us is fascinating. If he wasn’t sympathetic, the film would effectively be about an extremely violent man with severe mental issues.
So, we don’t discount his behaviour because of the redeemable way he’s presented. Plus, he wants to see a better life for Iris (Jodie Foster), a teenage prostitute he befriends. At the risk of giving away the plot, I won’t say any more on their dynamic. But until the final moments, Taxi Driver is vivid and powerful.
It’s probably one of the most talked about films ever. It has been dissected, analysed and ranted about for decades. This influential film can be watched several times over and you always learn something new each time.
Taxi Driver tells a shattering story in which the grey area of vengeance and justice comes to your attention in brute force. Essential viewing.
Director: Martin Scorcesse
Writer: Paul Shrader
Stars: Robert DiNero, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel
Produced & Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 113 min.