• Teresa Xie


Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was my introduction to film. Before watching Taxi Driver, my relationship with film was casual. It was mainly rooted in rom-coms, popular movie theatre releases, and the occasional I-need-to-watch-this-movie-so-I-know-what-people-are-referencing-when-they-talk-about-it. Taxi Driver was the first film I watched with intent and appreciation for the complete work of art it is.

Taxi Driver’s most redeeming qualities do not revolve around the guns and the violence that many American films ground themselves in. Seeing Taxi Driver in this light completely misses the point and says more about the viewer than the film. Instead, it is the masterful crafting of Travis Bickle’s character and Robert De Niro’s embodiment of him that makes Taxi Driver irreplicable. To paint such a full picture of a character who is simultaneously ambiguous but so strongly motivated by his inner thoughts requires an unapologetic understanding of how fucked up human nature often is.

Taxi Driver revolves around Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a depressed young war veteran who decides to take up taxi driving to remedy his chronic insomnia. He becomes obsessed with a campaign volunteer named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) who he observes through a window, but after taking her to a porn movie, their relationship ends. Travis’ depression largely stems from the injustices he sees occurring around him; there is a feeling of hopelessness that plagues his existence. He begins to direct his energy to save a teen prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster, who was 12 when Taxi Driver was filmed), who is abused by her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel), and goes to great lengths to “rescue” her in the interests of both his own loneliness and her innocence.

While many will no doubt remember the scene where Bickle stares straight into the mirror and says to himself, “Are you talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here,” I think the most telling scene of the movie occurs when Travis calls Betsy to ask her on another date, despite the fact that she clearly does not want to see him again. The conversation is painful to watch on screen, and Scorsese keeps Bickle on the right side of the screen, as if the camera could turn away from him at any minute. Eventually, the camera does, as if a third eye recognizes how unbearable the viewer must feel watching Travis make a fool of himself, plunging deeper into his loneliness. This scene encapsulates the tension that lies at the heart of the film, which exists between the observer and Bickle’s erratic demise. It almost feels wrong to spend two hours watching a character constantly in his most vulnerable state, but at the same time, we cannot bear to look away.

Taxi Driver highlights the way loneliness infects the body like a virus, and self-persuasion ultimately acts as one’s life support. Scorcese excels at portraying Bickle as objectively odd and crazy, while simultaneously giving justice to his point of view. These lines are distinct until the very end of the film, in which it’s unclear if the final scene is made-up in Bickle’s head or if it reflects reality. However, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, partially because there will never be an answer. Still, the audience is put at rest after following Bickle’s tumultuous journey: one that plunges into the deepest parts of our own loneliness as we see our reflection in Travis’ mirror as he says, “Well I’m the only one here.”

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