Posted on 12/19/12 10:34 AM
Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" is long documented: winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, nominated for four academy awards, ranked 52 on AFI's 100 years....100 movies, and gained the preserved rights in the National Film Registry in 1994. Yes, Scorsese's second film most certainly gained critical attention for the young auteur. However, not only was it received as a critical success, Scorsese efforts struck a profound effect with the American public, and not only in the terms of 'Box-Office Profits' (to which it did succeed), but rather a transcendental resonance of certain citizens. So profound, that John Hickley Jr attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. His motivations stemmed from his trans-fixation for Jodie Fosters character "Iris," along with mimicking the cultural iconic 'Bickle Mohawk.' Within the final ramifications of his case, Hickley's solicitor concluded with presenting to the jury the actual film for evidence. Additionally, while delving into the special features, Paul Schrader was once greeted by a mysterious man at his hotel. The stranger began to question Schrader on how he knew him and why he made a movie about him. Perplexed, Schrader realized that this was a man that shared similar - maybe even identical - traits to likes of the central character "Travis Bickle." Releasing a film that utilized Americas anxieties - post-traumatic stress and psychological weakening after Vietnam; the existential anxieties within an urbanized landscape; and a vision of humanity that has gone to dogs (which still contains contemporary resonance) - to say that "Taxi Driver" is merely profound would be a monumental understatement. Undeniably the most powerful, disconcerting and poignant character study of the fragility of the human condition. To quote Roger Ebert "One of the best and most powerful of all films."
The plot is not....well not a plot, but rather an examination and character study of the psychotic Travis Bickle (De Niro). We follow Bickle and his isolation through his endless, mystic and depressing nights as a Cab-Driver - the effects of insomnia. His other affairs include the occupation of Porn-theaters and self-destruction towards self-preservation. As Travis delves into various affairs, he finds a profound interest in two women: a campaign volunteer named Betsy (Shepherd), and the young prostitute Iris (Foster).
Similar to most classics that have sustained a culturally and aesthetically impact on the cinematic world, "Taxi Driver" contains a historical noted production. Beginning with a number of short films displayed within his university studies, Scorsese first introduction into the Hollywood world began in the early 70's. Coming off the critical successful "Mean Streets," Scorsese next film would situate himself under the accumulation of the ever-growing "Movie Bratz"; a list of adolescence directors that included Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Among of his friends, it is cited that Brian De Palma was the catalyst for introducing Scorsese to the script-writer Paul Schrader, and his long term partner Robert De Niro. With any film containing subject matter revolving around subconscious and psychotic elements, much of the story stems from a subjective viewpoint. And while Schrader based the script of the diary of Arthur Bremer (a man who actually shot a presidential canidate), much of the influence for such story was instigated from Schrader's own personal experiences. Schrader suffered depression and was in general a lonesome person; the essential traits to Bickle. Scorsese inspiration stemmed from his favourite notions: sins, violence and salvation. And with both sharing similar interests, Scorsese created his central figure as a blood-soaked angel that cruises the streets of New York in search of redemption while filth, immorality, nihilistic, racism and complete desertification surrounds him.
As stated, "Taxi Driver" is a film where we follow a man. The ultimate anti-hero riddled with a sense of warped morality. However, even though the film contains explicit levels of violence (even for a Scorsese film), Bickle's journey is a poignant one, a man so desolated within his alienation that his social skills are extremely inferior to the norm. But even though his character is one who we do not want to meet, hes essential qualities are ones that everyone can share a connection with: who can say they never been surrounded by a sense of isolation or have troubles in developing the ideological social presentation? I know have, and that is why we ultimately question Bickle's situation: he's a man that makes continuous attempts at forming a social connection, but due to his 'inexperience,' he's obviously rejected because his efforts do not follow the norm. Is his predicament solely his fault? Or rather societies prejudice nature? Consider the various scenarios: Bickle spends much of his nights within the porn-theater. Initially, he attempts to have a friendly chat with the beverages worker but is rejected because 'the people' who go to the porn-theater are anonymous presences - in other words, a porn-theater is not a place of socializing.....but Travis doesn't know that. Secondly, Bickle's idealization of Betsy's presence against the back drop of the "filth and scum" warrants himself a date. Awkwardly, Travis takes Betsy to the porno-theater where, once again, his attempts at socializing are rejected. As stated, it's extremely poignant and melancholic in watching Bickle continuously fail while we are questioning the prejudice nature of society.
With attempt, after attempt, eventuating with a dismal outcome, Bickle's logical state becomes disturbing. Continually losing the fragments of his mind, Bickle's goes from a self destructive physical state, to a self-preservation state; he begins to write down his thoughts, diets with excellent nutrition, begins to exercise, and arms himself as a walking mercenary on the road to redemption (funny oxymoron, I know). He channels this notion of redemption at the young prostitute Iris. Bickle believes, with his twisted morality, that the saviour of this adolescence and the destruction of her pimps will full-fill his wonderment state. However, before the blood-soaked climax, there are many attempts at his disturbing fantasy. Initially, he kills an African American (there are continuous undercurrents of his racist nature); he begins talking to a presidential bodyguard in a psychotic manner; and then attempts to genuinely shoot Senator Charles Palantine. but, as previously mentioned, Bickle full-fills his destiny by annihilating the pimps in a seedy, bloody, and evidently gruesome rage that contains more blood than a blood-bank. Like many Scorsese films, a lot of characters, sets, locations, motivations and situations consist of allegoric and connotations of religious themes; and Bickle most certainly and paradoxically contains the connotations and allegoric qualities of a blood-soaked angel. Like the heroes of "Drive," Ethan in "The Searchers," Shane in "Shane," or even Deckard in "Blade Runner," Bickle was the first to instigate this sense of warped morality with the qualities of a guardian angel, well, for Isis sake anyway. And even though Bickle's actions may be unforgivable, they are evoked with the right intentions. And in a world riddled with cities that should be "just flushed down the fuckin' toilet," maybe his actions could be accepted.
With a film that spends most its time psychological examining an individual, a distinct clarification must be displayed to notify when we are dealing with the internal subject rather than the external, and in this regard, Scorsese's direction is effortlessly sublime. Scorsese establishes the camera as a window into Bickle's subconscious, allowing himself with the flexibility to convey Bickle's internal emotions visual rather than aurally. Consider the two sequences: As Bickle begins his war on a decaying society, he gains his arsenal though an arms dealer. The dealer allows Bickle to gain a feel of the various guns. As the scene continues, the camera switches from an establishing shot, to a POV view displaying Bickle's gaze as he positions the gun towards against the window and takes aim at the various pedestrians. Simultaneously harrowing and brilliant, Scorsese camera work maintains the ability to evoke Bickle's emotions without physical flamboyance, but through a passive state that is channeled internally - quite possible the epitome sequence that shares resonance with the protagonist comments "Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets." Secondly, Wizard (Bickle's fellow Cab-Man) engages in various political mumbo-jumbo. Slowly, the camera once again switches to a POV shot on Bickle's gaze which is fixated on a glass of water bubbling and seemingly bursting at its seams. The message is obvious: Travis Bickle is a ticking time-bomb.
Additionally, for a film made within Hollywood's boundaries and the diminishing signs of 'The Auteur, Scorsese directional style contains audacious, innovative, authentic, profound shots and angles. After repetitive viewings, it's quite easy to see the impact of "The French New Wave." Directors that included Jean Luc Godard and Franšois Truffaut. The various films created by these directors were efforts at destroying the cinematic language: authentic camera movements, films that were self-conscious, as in, you could tell a camera existed upon the frame as characters continually broke the forth-wall; paradoxically, immoral characters that are likable, and existential themes that revolved around the individual and the absurdity of human existence. And, sufficient to say, Scorsese "Taxi Driver" most certainly holds a candle to the French's innovation. For example, through the sequence where Travis is talking into an endless phone-line; rather than Scorsese staying on his position for dramatic effect, the camera begins to slowly move from the position of phone to the emptiness of the hallway. While it does represent Bickle's superfluous efforts with retaining a relationship with Betsy, the shot is simply more effective as an appreciation of audacious film-making. Scorsese breaks traditional camera movements to create an ambiguous sequence.
While on the aspects of technical fronts, Bernard Herrmann score is an entity to behold. His final score upon his death in 1975, his final efforts were dedicated to his lasting legacy. To say Herrman was an aural genius is simply an understatement; whether it be the psychotic strings of "Psycho," the anonymous errs of "Vertigo," or the idealistic thumps of "Citizen Kane," each musical composition performed by Herrmann was strikingly profound with the films mood, and "Taxi Driver" is no exception. The score simultaneously conveys two emotions: good and evil. One side manifested with the composition through a Saxophone that signifies the 'Scum' and integrity decay, then the other side perpetuated with a light melody representing the only light within this decaying world: Betsy. However, above all, the mood created from such efforts contributes greatly to Bickle's psychological state and the paradoxical emotions he seems to embody: a sense of poignancy and disturbing fantasies.
Of the course, the film power wouldn't of worked with simply one of the best actors that has ever existed: Robert De Niro. Like most of his efforts, De Niro poured his soul into his characters. Losing 17.5 kilo's and continually dedicating his time Arthur Bremer's diary entries for the role, all entities contributed to one riveting performance as the tormented Travis Bickle. Seemingly conveying effortlessly the parallel dimensions of a psychotic while still displaying the capability of demanding sympathy. After watching "Taxi Driver," you'll never forgot the ever-so quotable "You talkin' to me?" stint in front of his own reflection.
Now upon its ambiguous ending, many have interpreted the final segments as an ironic statement: the media's continual exploitation of a deranged killer celebrated as a hero because he killed the 'right people.' A logical interpretation that points to many of the elements that the anti-hero symbol embodies, while still offering a social commentary on the prejudices of society (which is an obvious undercurrent throughout the whole film). While this perception is the wholly accepted answer - which the director and writer have clearly clarified - many still contain eccentric, but undeniably valid directions. The other accepted interpretation is that the concluding moments are a death memoir of Bickle's desires, a dream-like state of his ultimate idealizations of solace: he has saved the Iris, and Betsy now admires him. Will we ever know the answers to such ambiguity? Doubt it. But whatever interpretation you choose to accept, one thing is certified: Travis Bickle has most certainly gained a sense of redemption - a therapeutic solace that many of Scorsese's characters stride for.