Taxi Driver is a movie that has hung out on my watchlist for a long time. It’s one of those movies, like The Godfather or The Princess Bride, that’s so good that everybody knows it’s good, therefore I don’t need to watch it to confirm if it’s good or not. It’s been reviewed to death on Instagram, Reddit, and Letterboxd. So what’s one more? Might as well add my opinion to the sea of others.
I decided to watch this movie because I’m reading Quentin Tarantino’s Film Speculation which was published earlier this year. That book is full of movies I haven’t seen yet so I thought I should watch them before I read QT’s take on them. Great book, highly recommend it. Anyway, he included a chapter on Taxi Driver so I had to finally sit down and watch it.
I’m going to talk about what I enjoyed. I loved the grit and grime of 1970s New York. It was disgusting, full of dirt, garbage, and crime. It’s everything that I associate with NYC. The 70s was largely a transition period in the history of the United States and this movie captures that transition from the failure of the 1960s peace movement towards the now modern capitalist society we know today.
Robert De Niro gives the performance of a lifetime…
Robert De Niro gives the performance of a lifetime in front of Scorsese’s ARRIFLEX 35 BL camera loaded with vintage 35mm Eastman Color Negative film stock. The growing pains of that city and society as a whole are captured in Travis Bickle, the Vietnam Vet turned wannabe vigilante. The spoils that the greatest generation was allowed to reap after their conflict was not available to him after his.
Life truly does imitate art, for better or for worse.
What he was sold on in his youth turned out to be a lie and he was cast out because of it. He was damaged goods and it shouldn’t have been his fault. That’s not fair, but life ain’t fair and the world is mean (Sturgill Simpson, High Top Mountain). Instead of bettering himself, Travis sinks into the scum and shit that he so despises. He shouldn’t change to be better than society, he needs to make society bend to his warped worldview. The only tools at his disposal are violence and chaos.
It’s a dangerous line of thinking, but Travis is a dangerous guy. In fact, he’s terrifying. The ideology that he subscribes to is so pervasive in modern-day society that such an accurate depiction of it from nearly 50 years ago is startling to see. Life truly does imitate art, for better or for worse. This creed fuels him to take drastic measures, and definitely not altruistic ones. He seeks control over the things he can’t have and fails continuously until he finds something that can’t fight back.
But as the viewer soon sees, Travis can’t even do that right. The worst people always have the best luck and he’s one of those people. He’s praised by the newspapers. He thinks he’s the hero of the story. But he’s not – he’s the villain, but also a victim of his own making. If the truth came out, he would be right back where he started, cursing society and thinking it was the world’s fault, not his.
Scorsese’s study of what happens when extreme isolation and volatile desperation are mixed together is an explosive masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough. Taxi Driver is available to rent on Prime Video ($).
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cybil Shepherd, Jodie Foster