The film taxi driver is essentially a portrayal of a character’s (Robert De Niro) decent deep into despondency and madness. By setting the scene in 1970’s New York City, director Martin Scorsese is able to illustrate De Niro’s character “Travis” as a common citizen immersed within a post-modern society. Released in the aftermath of the Vietnam War as well as the Watergate scandal, Taxi Driver is reflective of the public disillusionment of executive power. The picture contains a mixed genre, consisting of film noir, western, thriller and melodrama conventions, which together enable an examination into both social alienation and urban violence.
Travis Brickle, the protagonist within the film, is first introduced interviewing to get a job as a taxi driver (shocking). However, Travis is no normal individual, and often acts opposite of how the audience will expect. For starters, he is astonishingly blind when it comes to facing rejection by the woman he thinks he loves. Following this rejection, a fellow taxi driver (who one might consider his friend) attempts to give him advice by encouraging him to do what he thinks is right in life, and to listen to his inner desires. Considering Travis’ history (being a war veteran who suffers from insomnia), this is particularly dangerous advice to give him. Travis’ inability to “fit in” and be like everyone else in the city reflects his disconnection with society, leading him to place blame one the city itself, describing it as a “garbage city filled with scum.” As he continuously grows more unstable, he follows a path filled with loneliness and violent fantasies, revealed with his sustained practice of pulling out his gun (faster than his imaginary adversary). The film takes inspiration from classical westerns in this sense, seen when Travis acts as a John Wayne figure practicing his “quick draws,” as if in an old western showdown.
Taxi Driver‘s plot also pays homage to the film The Searchers, starring John Wayne as “Ethan Edwards.” Within The Searchers, Edwards is neither seen as a hero, nor a villain, just as Travis is depicted in his respective film. Both characters appear as estranged loners, who just cannot seem to fit in to society. In addition, the public ultimately winds up considering both Travis and Ethan as a heroic figure, despite murdering “innocent” people in the course of their actions. Travis receives praise from the family of the prostitute (Iris) he essentially saves while murdering those who “kept her captive,” and even manages to recapture the attention of the girl he once desired more than anything.
The film Taxi Driver defies expectations in several ways, including the inconsistent and radical change experienced by Travis, most dramatically visualized by the audience upon planning to assassinate a presidential candidate. Reflecting the city itself, which at the time (1970’s) was evidently wild and filled with violence, Travis organizes his new “identity” around such realities, sporting a mohawk haircut (another adaptation of western film), while armed from head to toe with numerous weapons. Failing to kill his target, he switches focus altogether as he decides to allocate his rage elsewhere, leading him to killing Iris’ pimp, as well as two other gangsters who are in the brothel where Iris “works.” He even attempts to turn the gun on himself (further revealing his unstable nature), but finds himself out of ammo. In yet another expectation defying scene, the audience is shown newspapers reading that not only did Travis survive the massacre (despite getting shot twice), but he’s regarded as a hero by society, including Iris’ family.
Changing His Look, Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeffrey Wells, 26 Mar. 2011 http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2011/03/blockage-denial/
John Wayne Depiction, Scraps From The Loft, 24 Mar. 2017 https://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2017/05/24/taxi-driver-underground-man-review-pauline-kael/
Taxi Driver. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Performances by Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, and Leonard Harris. Columbia Pictures, 1976
The Cowboy, Sony Pictures Museum, http://www.sonypicturesmuseum.com/collection/787/taxi-driver
You Talking To Me? Flicks and Pieces, 3 Apr. 2015, https://flicksandpieces.com/about-2/