Taxi Driver was released in 1976. I saw it for the first time in about 1996. My second viewing was last Friday night. The film was on a cable channel, with all the swears and no commercials.
I know I’m not telling anyone about a movie they’ve never heard of. Taxi Driver launched the careers of legends and is referenced in countless films and TV shows. If you haven’t seen it in a while, so long that you don’t remember every detail, watch it again. Right now.
Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle: Vietnam vet, insomniac, and taxi driver. His stability is held together with pills and routine. Sometimes in a film that centers on a descent into madness, I can find something relatable in the protagonist. That spark that says, ‘Oh, yeah. I can see why he/she is completely losing his/her shit.’ Not so much with Travis Bickle. Vietnam screwed a lot of folks up, but that’s really the only root the viewer has to grab. We don’t know if Travis was picked on in high school, if his fiancée left him for his best friend, or if his childhood dog contracted rabies and had to be put down. Scorsese left the character vague, perhaps so we can attach our own issues to the madman.
Travis spots a beautiful blond woman (Cybill Shepherd as Betsy) one day and she becomes the bright spot in the cesspool that is his version of New York City. Travis pursues her and she agrees to go to the movies with him. He, for some asinine nut-job reason, takes her to a porno theater for their date. Then he doesn’t get why she’s so mad and he starts full-on stalking her. Enter Iris, the barely post-pubescent prostitute played by Jodie Foster. She wears short shorts and big hats, and Travis is desperate for her to go home to her parents. Her pimp Matthew (Harvey Kietel) and Betsy’s senator boss become the targets of Travis’s rage. He needs to kill someone to feel validated and he’s not messing around. In case you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, I won’t give up the body count.
His crazy sundae has a base of PTSD, topped with rejection, a 12-year-old prostitute, and one too many jerks. NYC is in for a crazy man shit-storm.
Travis’s breakdown is accessorized with guns stashed in various parts of his clothing and an unexplained Mohawk. Though Travis Bickle the man pretty much remains a mystery throughout the film, the beauty and horror of complete loneliness is captured in a grungy, violent fashion that demands the viewer’s complete attention.