Films of Shame has seen me watch and review five movies I should have seen but had not. So far, I’ve managed to cross off Citizen Kane, The Shining, The Godfather Part II, and Annie Hall. Taxi Driver’s the last on my list.
Taxi Driver is the film which cemented both de Niro and Scorcese in mainstream cinema: a place neither have strayed far from in the 35 years since its release.
It’s a film most famous for de Niro’s performance, as he plays the introverted Travis, a young man unsure of his place in a world he sees largely through the windows and mirrors of his taxi.
The film does a remarkable job of showing both the internal and external facets of one’s nature. The person we choose to show other people versus the person we are on our own.
We see our young protagonist in a city he feels is falling apart, but with no clue how to respond to it. He makes decisions in the movie that are at times noble, at times naive, and at times morally questionable.
For me the most heartbreaking scene in the movie is when he asks one of his older colleagues advice about how to get by, and his colleague is unable to offer anything other that ‘just get on with it’. It’s obvious that for Travis that is not enough, and the decisions that follow show that he is someone determined not to just transport people here and there, but actually change the world he inhabits.
All of this makes Travis one of the most brilliantly drawn characters put on screen. There is an incredible depth to every action and line in the movie, and you can’t help but join the lead character in solving the mystery of who he is and how he fits into everything that goes on around him.
Finally, the film’s depiction of New York is incredibly rich in detail and scope. Parts of the movie simply focus in on Travis as he drives through the city, the camera picking up on small details, as relaxing but seedy jazz music accompanies each trip.
At various points through out the film, the camera shows us water gushing out of hydrants clearing all the dirt on the road away. It reminds us of Travis’ words early in the story “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” As Taxi Driver reaches its climax it’s obvious Travis sees himself as the one to do the washing. And the way he goes about that, makes the film’s ending brilliantly engaging, exciting and emotional.
Taxi Driver has aged beautifully. The issues Travis sees in the 70s, prostitution; drugs; and politicians we find difficult to trust; never seem to go away. Most of all, however, it’s a masterclass in the creation of a character: someone who can be viewed in so many different ways, both by himself and the viewer.