Release: February 8 1976
Director: Martin Scorcese
Taxi Driver is an all-time great. One of my favourite, if not my very favourite, movies of all time. This year it celebrated its 40th anniversary with a new blu ray release, which if Santa doesn’t bring me, I will get him to put on his belated sleigh via Amazon.com. If you haven’t seen it (then we can’t be friends)it is essentially about a Vietnam war vet Travis Bickle (De Niro, duh) who, unable to sleep, gets a job as a Taxi Driver. Meanwhile he develops a crush on a woman named Besty (Cybil Shephard) who works at the New York campaign office of Presidential hopeful Charles Palantine. He eventually comes on too strong as the socially awkward, and apparently friendless, Travis takes her to a movie theater specialising in sex films. Offended she leaves and goes home alone.
Growing increasingly disillusioned he confides in a fellow taxi driver about his thoughts and ideas, which are starting to become violent. Travis, disgusted by the sleaze, prostitution, and drugs (to name a few) that he sees throughout the city on his routes – “All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” – undertakes intense physical training in his home, both to ready him for the ‘rain’ and as an outlet for his frustration. He eventually befriends a young prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) who he tries to convince to move back home with her parents.
He buys guns, shaves his head in to a mohawk, asks if you’re talking to him, you. Here’s where it gets relevant – Travis shows up at a rally for Charles Palantine where he plans to assassinate him. He gets noticed by Secret Service and flees successfully through a crowd of people. When Palantine happens to jump in his cab Travis tells him he just knows he’s going to win! Next, he’s out there trying to kill the guy. What changed? Betsy. He’s getting more and more fed up, not helped, by his recent run ins with Iris, with the way things are going. It seems killing Palantine is more of a symbolic ‘fuck you’ to Betsy (and the Government that allows the ‘whores, skunk pussies’ etc.) as opposed to killing her – the dead don’t feel pain, right? Keep in mind this film was made roughly 13 years after Kennedy’s assassination, around about the same amount of time between the 9/11 attacks and the present – less than ten since Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down. Crazed gunmen were likely the boogeyman of the day, much like Middle-Eastern terrorists at present.
The fact that the movie is so widely revered, aside from its impeccable content, is testament to just how real and common Travis’ feelings of loneliness are. He feels no one understands him – he’s “God’s lonely man.” – and that killing a prominent politician may serve as a catalyst for change, or at least give some damn relief. Now, I don’t mean everyone, or anyone, who’s been let down by a girl, or society, or both, would or should gun down politicians, but it wouldn’t be the first time and I’d wager it won’t be the last either. What can Taxi Driver tell us, or warn us, about a Trump Presidency? Maybe nothing, but we do know that, for better or worse, he is skating on thin ice already, and the film is depicting true, real emotions and circumstances. New York in 1976, as portrayed here, takes on an almost dystopian image; neon lights, steam coming from man-holes, drug addicts, rubbish flying in the wind, you know the drill. I am partially reminded of the proletariat from Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps it is merely a reflection of how the world looks through Travis’ embittered eyes – perhaps it’s how the world is now beginning to look for a lot of people, Trump voters or otherwise.
Paul Schrader’s script, at a glance, might be too confronting for some. In it’s complete, filmed, form maybe even more so. It was definitely controversial in its release, especially the final few scenes. However, if this were simply a film about a lunatic that people don’t really identify with, or don’t even really care about, it would have been lost and forgotten like plenty of other neo-noir New York City thrillers. Instead it remains consistently hovering in most top 10 lists of the greatest movies ever made. Happy 40th.