Movie: Taxi Driver (1976)
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Paul Schrader
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodei Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Hervey Keitel
History has incessantly demonstrated that when the world is on the verge of tumbling down or the evil takes over, a savior, essentially a common man, rises from slumber and wipes out the scum from the face of this earth. But, this movie is not about the heroic actions of a common man. It is, perhaps, the story of a disillusioned, disoriented and a directionless man who, through the course of the movie, seems to find the purpose of his life only to end up in a brutal violent rage.
Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine and Vietnam war veteran, drives a taxi in the night shift in order to fight insomnia. He lives in a state of isolation which becomes apparent when he says, “Loneliness has followed me in my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I am God’s only man.” but doesn’t make efforts to develop a meaningful relationship with his co-cab drivers. His socially inept identity comes to surface when he casually takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) who appears to be a ray of hope in the otherwise hopeless life of Travis, to a porn movie.
Although, in the first half of the movie, Travis comes across as bitter but indifferent to his surroundings, but towards the end you realize that the intolerance towards what he terms as ‘the scum, the dogs, the filth, the shit’ had been growing inside Travis since the beginning only to be fueled by the half-hearted response from his fellow cab driver Wiz whom he confronts for a small talk. “I got some bad ideas in my head.” he says.
His only slightly sensitive human behavior is visible when he attempts to save Iris (Jodie Foster), a 12 year old prostitute from the hands of a smooth talking pimp (Hervey Keitel).
To sum up Travis is a complex, radical and a psychologically unstable man who slips into insanity on the pretext of saving the post Vietnam war affected New York city of the chaotic situation.
Martin Scorsese has teamed up with De Niro to create a disturbing yet a powerful piece of cinema. He has very realistically portrayed the ever increasing urban alienation and the intolerance of a common man towards its follies. Paul Schrader’s engaging screenplay takes you through the psyche of a man who at first, makes you feel awkward but compels you to question the very character and his motives at the end of the movie.
The film downright belongs to De Niro. Time and again he has proved that he is the master of versatility: Be it the role of a gangster in Goodfellas or the Chief Diver and mentor in Men of Honor, a catatonic patient in Awakenings or a father in Silver Linings Playbook. The transformation that the character goes through has been brilliantly illustrated by the different moods (Indifference, rage, determination, sympathy) he has effortlessly carried. Foster as Iris has stood out in the small role as a young prostitute which at her age would have been pretty difficult to carry and Shepherd as Betsy doesn’t carry much weight but looks pretty.
The film has a number of aspects open to the audience’s interpretation which has led a certain strata of viewers to dislike the movie. But to me, these aspects make it more gripping and thought provoking. The best example is the end of the movie where, after the bloody brawl, he is left unconscious only to return in the last frame with a reputation of a hero. Is he hallucinating while injured? Is he accepted by the society? Has he turned normal or is the same Travis to return? It is left upto the viewer to conclude. The movie is a cinematic treat with one of the finest performances of all times.