Director: Martin Scorsese
Release Date: 1976 February 8
Screenwriter: Paul Schrader
Starring: Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Robert DeNiro
Connection is one of the essential aspects of life that keeps us sane. Without human interaction, there is no potential for a purpose in life and no reason to continue, and people will do anything to save themselves from that quietly menacing imprisonment of alienation. Martin Scorsese’s first masterpiece, Taxi Driver, is about the darkness that consumes someone that fails to connect. Travis Bickle roams the murky streets of New York City, looking for an opportunity to exist. On February 8, 1976 Paul Shrader’s gritty script was immortalized on celluloid, the world was introduced to the searing peak of Robert DeNiro, and Martin Scorsese broke into the cream of the crop with perfection on celluloid.
Scorsese directs this film in a way where he places the audience in the gritty streets of New York City, and you can almost smell the wet pavements, feel the steamy nights, and taste the drug-filled air. He captures the essence of the city, almost making it a character of its own. Scorsese also weaves the film from the mind of Travis Bickle. For example, he rotates the camera to show his world, focuses on a bubbling glass to show he’s miles away, or slows down the shot to show his attraction to Betsy. The direction is truly masterful, and properly translates Paul Shrader’s amazing script to the silver screen.
Robert DeNiro worked 12 hours/day as an authentic cab driver, as prepartion for the role. He also studied mental illness and Mid-Western accents, and also lost a considerable amount of weight.
Robert DeNiro, in arguably his best collaboration with the equally legendary Scorsese, was the epitome of alienation, living his sleepless nights in a cab as the iconic Travis Bickle. The Mohawk, the hungry eyes, the guns, and the mirror. Travis Bickle was a character that scorched the screen. DeNiro dives intimately deep into the character of Travis Bickle that every scene feels like you’re watching an actual person, so much that it seems as DeNiro and Bickle share the same soul. Bickle‘s eyes could melt steel, and his mannerisms exude an appropriate mix of anxiety and kinetic actions. Every scene with Bickle is so seamlessly natural. At one point he’s an oddly charming man trying to earn a date with a politician worker, and later he transforms into a volcanic mess. In his famous mirror scene, Bickle raises his .44 magnum to the screen with a smile of relief mixed with destiny, and it’s truly frightening that he has come to such a purpose in life for himself. DeNiro truly bleeds to play the character, and every drop is worth it; Travis Bickle is simply unforgettable.
Jodie Foster also does a tremendous job as the 12 year old prostitute that’s oddly enchanted by her pimp, and doesn’t quite want to be saved. Foster, as Iris, boldly plays a character that is innocent in some ways, but trashy in others. Cybill Shepherd also does well as the main love interest, Betsy, as she comes off as the smart, socially-involved type with an inviting gentleness.
Travis Bickle is truly “God’s Lonely Man.” His story is a rich and unnerving study of the evil that human beings carry within them, sparked by the lack of human interaction. The entire film can spark an intellectual debate about the psychology of the human condition, without the need of special effects or flashy tactics. The ending is also one of the most thought-provoking caps to any film. Whether the ending is a dream or not, you get the sense that it doesn’t really matter because the last look on his fiery eyes gives off the sense that even if he finds a place in society through love and friendship, it will only be momentary, like everything else in life. On a long enough time-line, alienation prevails, and everything that suppressed it before will be no better than mere illusions; that’s the scariest, most enlightening realization of the film.
It may be too dark, complex or even depressing for some. I suggest you watch it on a day where things aren’t going too well, as you can relate to it more in the appropriate mindset. The film was released in 1976, so there will be a disconnect in some aspects, but nothing too essential to dilute the endlessly universal theme of the film.