Part One: The Personality Cult
In 1976 Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader came together to present a rather disturbing film that showcased the utter alienation that is felt within an urban society, and regrettable fallout that comes with it. Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro as veteran Travis Bickle, is a revealing look into the mind of a man who has become disconnected with the world he feels has forgotten him, a clear message that is sent by Scorsese and Schrader considering the time period in which the film is set, which is after a long, disastrous campaign in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. America at this time was a nation in turmoil, and seeking a hero (Dirks, 2015). Taxi driver shows the plight of those who seek heroism but get lost along the way.
The film goes deeply into the madness that is felt by an obsessed, lonely cab driver who begins like anyone might, a nice enough person with strange and unusual qualities that feels as though the world has passed him over. While Bickle at least attempts to steer himself in the right direction his desires to rid the city of what he sees as a problem, the “street scum” that he sees along his routes every night, becomes the driving reason behind his being, the only real purpose that he can see after a while. In the beginning he is smitten with a lovely office worker named Betsy, who is played by Cybill Shepherd, but is rejected by her when she discovers that he is anything but normal. This only accelerates his downward spiral, as he soon enough becomes
even more unstable as he begins to stalk both her and the political candidate she works for, a presidential candidate that he eventually plans to assassinate.
During this time he is also in contact with a young, 12-year old stripper named Iris, played by Jodie Foster, whom he attempts to save from her current life. Repulsed by the fact that she is being treated as she is, Travis attempts to talk to Iris in order to make her understand why what she is doing is wrong and what the type of life her pimp will eventually do to her. Though his morals are a bit questionable Travis Bickle tends to represent the disillusioned loner who is looking for a way to make things sensible again, a means to atone for something that only he can really understand. He is the common anti-hero in that he is possessed of a moral center, though one that starts out as being dangerously close to the edge of his own personal madness, and needs only a slight push to send him over the brink.
For Travis that push comes when Betsy rejects him, as she refuses to see Travis any longer after he takes her on a date to a lewd, adult film theater. Seeing nothing wrong with what he’s done Travis fails to understand why she will not talk to him after, and thus begins to descend even further into the self-destructive behaviors that had already began to surface. His continued interactions with Iris don’t help matters any, and eventually Travis makes a plan to assassinate Betsy’s Boss, presidential candidate Charles Palantine. When that attempt fails however he moves on instead to the liberation of the young prostitute, going so far as to engage in a shootout with her pimp and the pimps boss, who eventually get the drop on Travis and turn the gun fight into a bloodbath.
Near the very end Travis slumps upon a nearby loveseat within one of the brothel’s rooms, the boss of the dead pimp sprawled next to him on the floor. As the police enter and point their weapons at Travis he lifts a bloody hand to his head and mimes the shooting of a gun,
an image that has been greatly debated since the film’s release and a disturbing image that has stuck in the mind of many a movie-goer. The mere fact that Travis does not die is only more intriguing and lends itself to even more interpretation (Caron, 1997).
His iconic monologue in which he stares at the mirror and utters the words “You talkin’ to me?” (Scorsese, 1976) has become a part of American culture since the movie’s release, and has made Robert De Niro an American icon within the film industry. The plight of Travis Bickle is one that is felt by many, and has reportedly inspired both the dramatic and the homicidal in other individuals. It is easy to feel angry and rejected by a country in which the norm is debauchery and vice, and the story of Travis Bickle only reiterates what many people have felt throughout the decades regarding their own environment and what they would like to do to change it.
It is said that film is inspired by reality and in turn inspires reality in a continuous cycle. In the case of Taxi Driver the issues felt by Travis Bickle are linked to the case of John Hinckley, the man who in 1981 attempted to assassinate President Reagan. Though this act alone was deplorable and ill-advised, the mere fact that it was to win the attentions of actress Jodie Foster (Jardin, 2015). There have been other lonely, disturbed misfits lurking on the fringes of society and within its darker recesses that have attempted lesser crimes and began to crop up since the release of Taxi Driver and other such films, but there is no doubt that the sad and tragic case of Travis Bickle paved the way for those alienated individuals that feel as if the world has turned its back on them. In more than a few ways this film is a prophetic message in that it tells a story that is very real in its themes and messages, despite the fiction with which it was presented. Though it seems a bit cliché to say, there is at least a part of Travis Bickle in many upon many people, though only a rare few ever dare to cross that line and take justice into their own hands.
Part Two: Analysis
Creating a film is without a doubt the most frustrating, nerve-wracking, rewarding experience ever. Many people would stare in confusion at those words, wondering how anything can be one thing and still be another that is entirely opposite. A good story though doesn’t fit into one particular mold or another, it expounds towards many different themes at once before finding itself in its own well-defined niche. Creating a film is like creating another life, another world where the director has final say and can determine what needs to happen when and why. The art of making a film is a peek into another world, a glimpse into something that is like real life, but is not.
There are a great many elements that go into the process of creating a film, not the least of which are the actors, the script they must memorize, and the dynamic between said actors and the scenes they must portray. Some might believe it to be easy, even simplistic to pretend to be someone else, but to do it realistically is particularly frustrating, as only the truly gifted actors can become someone else on cue. Breaking people out of their shell when on camera is undoubtedly one of the hardest tasks. At times it is far easier to create an astounding special effect than to coax a person into a role.
On top of that, the script itself must be real enough to be believed. From the original writer of a story to the actor that portrays a character, a role needs to be well-defined and capable of being realistic, no matter if the story is based in reality or not. That is undoubtedly one of the hardest challenges when making a film, working with people. It can be a great deal of fun, as mistakes and bloopers are undoubtedly one of the best bonding experiences in film, as the act of laughing at oneself and sharing it with others is a means of relieving stress and loosening up rather than tightening. The camaraderie that comes from this is definitely worth the hardship.
Overall the process of making a film is a bit like an adventure, albeit one that is much more work than any grand tale put onto film. The process takes far longer and feels more like a tribulation than a quest for some noble or ill purpose, but in the end it works out, and is often a celebrated success to simply reach the end scene. It is an accomplishment that, no matter how little or insignificant it might be at the time, is a work of art that is worthy of praise and respect.
Overall the project went well with few hitches at all, and was worth the work, not to mention the revelations that came as a result. A person can find out a great deal about themselves when they do something they’ve never done before, as it raises the metaphorical bar and breaks them out of that self-imposed comfort zone that so many slip into with ease. In order to get something you’ve never had it’s important to do something you’ve never done.
Regardless of who got along with whom, how many takes it had to withstand to get done, the process was far more important at times than the end product, and that was the way it had to be. In order to get to the end of any journey it’s important, vital even, to focus upon the journey itself, to take that one step after the one before and keep moving forward. As with any project this forward movement is the key to finishing, and to realizing what’s really at stake. Making a film is the epitome of storytelling, and the culmination of an ideal that in the end is worth the effort. If nothing else, it’s a story that needed to be told.
Caron, Andre. “The Last Temptation of Travis Bickle.” Off Screen. Eclectic and Serious Film
Criticism, Sept. 1997. Web. 27 April. 2015.
Dirks, Tom. Filmsite Movie Review: Taxi Driver. Filmsite. AMC. Web. 27 April. 2015.
Jardin, Xeni. “John Hinckley, who shot Reagan, is dating and wants to start a band, release
music anonymously.” Boing Boing. Web. 27 April. 2015.
Taxi Driver. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, and
Harvey Keitel. Columbia Pictures, 1976. Film.