Throwback Review ‘Taxi Driver’

I had no idea it was Robert De Niro who made the mohawk cool


“A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action, while attempting to liberate a twelve-year-old prostitute.”

I haven’t done a throwback review in a long time, so I thought new year, new me. I’m going to try and do one throwback review each week. I’ll be reviewing some of the “greatest movies of all time.” These will also be movies that I’ve never seen before. I know, I only just saw Taxi Driver for the first time last night. You have every right to be mad at me. Martin Scorsese’s 1976 epic is regarded as one of the best movies of all time, and was a very interesting watch for me. “You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here.” – Travis Bickle  

One of the most famous quotes in all of cinema, uttered by the emotionally scared, broken and deranged Travis Bickle, played by the legendary Robert De Niro. Now that line can be looked at and examined in a lot of different ways. Travis is a war veteran, having served time in the Vietnam War. He takes a job as a taxi driver in New York City because he is having difficulties sleeping at night. Thinking it would just be easier to make some cash during the sleepless hours in the night, rather than do nothing. Travis Bickle is a complicated character. For many people they connect with him on many levels, which is weird because he certainly is one of films most complex “heroes.” TaxiDriver deals with many things, the feeling of being alone, hopelessness, alienation and most importantly anger. I think that’s why so many people, when they do watch this movie, connect with Travis, because everyone at some point in their life has had these feelings. Travis just wants to connect with someone. Whether it’s with the woman is he fascinated with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd); a campaign volunteer who is helping out for Senator Palatine. Travis doesn’t know much about politics or political issues; he just wants to get close to Betsy. Travis is so alone and so alienated that he simply can’t connect with others. This is very apparent when he has his first date with Betsy and takes her to a pornographic movie. Outraged she storms off, and he can’t really comprehend why she would be so upset and distraught by this. Travis drives into the night and hates the “scum” of New York City. He despises these pimps, whores, and drug dealers. Yet he frequents pornographic movies, drinks constantly and takes painkillers. He essentially is all of the things he says he hates, and all of the characteristics that he thinks the city need to get rid of.

Travis can’t figure out his inner turmoil. He’s not educated enough and can’t come to grips with his haunting past in the war. All of this built up anger inside of him, leads to a life of being angry and violent on the outside. He is somewhat of a societal outcast, rejected by the outside world. Again Travis tries to connect with another individual, Iris (Jodie Foster) a 12-year-old prostitute, who Travis feels needs saving. I mentioned this was my first ever viewing of TaxiDriver, and I had no idea Jodie Foster was acting at such a young age. Both herself and De Niro were nominated for Oscars and rightfully so. The scenes they share together they are going toe-to-toe acting wise, and Foster puts in an incredible performance. The heart of the film is indeed the relationship between Travis and these two women. He is trying to assimilate back into society, so when he sees that Betsy is involved in the Presidential campaign, he wants to help in anyway he can. He wants to fit in. Betsy is pure and kind hearted, and even agrees to take a date with Travis. Here’s the thing, Scorsese does an incredible job making you connect and kind of root for Travis, even though he’s not a good person. Betsy and Travis are polar opposites and really have nothing in common. They might as well live on different planets, and I think this is well interrupted, when we see Travis in his taxicab watching Betsy from afar. I think Scorsese was trying to show us the space between them, that Travis is merely browsing, like a kid looking through the glass in a toy store. It’s something so unattainable. So when things don’t work out between them, he thinks she’s only being superficial, whereas she had every right to be angry with him. They are just not compatible. Whereas his relationship with Iris is vastly different. Travis wants to save her, from the moment she got into his cab, and was forced out physically by her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel), he knew that he had to save this girl. Travis wants a purpose in life, and he thinks saving both Betsy and Iris, is how he will achieve something within his own lonely and isolated life.

For Betsy it is ridding her of her political side and he wants to accomplish that by assassinating Senator Palatine. Travis and Palatine actually have an interaction when he ends up in his cab. The conversation goes well, until Travis explains how the new President needs to flush the “scum” of the city down the toilet. Palatine uses his charm and charisma to get out of the conversation and make Travis feel important. For Iris, Travis feels the need to rid Sport in her life. The man he thinks is keeping her beyond her will. He wants to prove is masculinity to both woman and he does this through violence. The assassination attempt and the killing of Sport.

Robert De Niro is hypnotic in his performance. We’ve all be watching him our whole lives, and maybe sometimes forget that he’s been acting for so long. I just think of DirtyGrandpa now. He memorized me in TaxiDriver. The whole movie is hypnotic, the portrayal of a hellish New York City in the late 70’s. The colors are so vibrant, especially the use of the color red. The use of the yellow taxi, it almost serves as Travis’s horse, as he acts like a cowboy for most of the movie. The whole movie is seen through the eyes and perspective of Travis, with close up shots of his face. His performances is just so dark, haunting and at the same time beautiful.

After watching the movie, I had to go read about the ending, because they leave it up in the air for you to interrupt. Travis is seen as a local hero, when he guns down some pimps in the “red room” shootout. No one knows the real motives behind Travis’s behavior and why he was actually there. He is dubbed a hero in all the newspapers. Now the last scene in the movie, Travis gets a costumer in his taxi, it’s Betsy. The whole cab ride you are only viewing it through Travis’s perspective. Very tight close up shots of his face while driving, smiling, and you only see Betsy through his eyes in his rearview mirror. You really only see her face. She says that she has read about him in the paper, and they make up for what went wrong on their date. When they arrive at her house, she asks how much the fare was and Travis simply smiles and drives off. You see her disappear in the distance, and again we are just seeing Travis. He looks into his mirror only to see his derange self-come out again, and he refocuses the mirror only for us to see it completely empty. Some believe that he died in the shootout; others think this is a dream sequence. I’m still not sure, one thing I know, the whole movie is through Travis’s eyes, and this last scene was no different. Travis wanted to gain the respect of Betsy and he got it, whether in reality or not. The ending kind of brings this emotional journey we have been on with Travis full circle. Travis seemed so unhappy, so lonely, so removed from society, that in the final scene it appears some of that is gone. He finally earns the redemption he was so desperate to achieve through the film. It’s a study of how men deal with solitude and loneliness. Travis is a ticking time bomb, he’s full of anger and PTSD, and he can’t control it or fully grasp how to deal with his problems.

Taxi Driver is a film that will stand the test of time, and that is honestly one of the greatest compliments you can ever give a film. I can’t believe I’ve only seen it once. So for my next throwback review I will be watching another Scorsese and De Niro team up, and that is Raging Bull.

Check ya later,

Nate’s Movie Tour Reviews = Taxi Driver = 95/100

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