US Release Date: 02-08-1976
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
- Robert De Niro, as
- Travis Bickle
- Jodie Foster, as
- Albert Brooks, as
- Leonard Harris, as
- Charles Palantine
- Peter Boyle, as
- Cybill Shepherd, as
- Harvey Keitel as
Robert De Niro is Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.
This is one of those famously iconic movies that people are aware of even without having seen it. De Niro's, "You talkin' to me?" scene is familiar to every movie buff. It was named #10 by the AFI on their 100 Years...100 Quotes list. As a whole though, how does the movie hold up 35 years after it was released? Despite being a bit rough around the edges, surprisingly well.
De Niro plays Travis Bickle, an unstable Vietnam vet in 1970s New York City. An insomniac on medication, he takes a job as a Taxi Driver, working nights, from 6PM to 6AM. Nightly he drives across the city, seeing only the ugliness and brutality that the city has to offer. Through the voiceover narration, we learn exactly what Bickle thinks of it all, "All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."
It has little to do with the plot, apart from showing the setting and introducing the characters, but these early scenes of Bickle prowling the city, mowing down the steam rising from the sewer grates, with the neon light reflected surreally in the windshield, are some of the most interesting and memorable. It's a dark and twisted world that he inhabits and we're taken along for the ride.
For a short while Bickle becomes smitten with Betsy, a political volunteer working for a presidential candidate. Their "relationship" doesn't last long though, ending before it begins when he takes her to a adult movie theater on their first date. It's her rejection that pushes the already deranged Bickle even further off the deep end.
Clearly Bickle's biggest problem is his isolation. As he says, "Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man." He longs to make a connection, but he doesn't have a clue how to relate to another human being. After purchasing some guns, he suddenly thinks he sees a way to make that connection, or at least a way to make an impact on the world.
The only person that Bickle does manage to form a connection with, is Iris, a very young prostitute played by Jodi Foster. As she puts it, "I don't know who's weirder. You or me?" In one of his few acts of humanity, Bickle offers to help Iris escape her troubled life.
Scorsese generates plenty of atmosphere. There's a gritty look and feel to the story that perfectly captures 1970s New York City. There's nothing glossy or pretty here, apart from Shepherd as Betsy. And except from the obtrusively dramatic soundtrack and the hyper-violence of the film's climax, there's a very realistic feel to the story.
De Niro's contribution is that with Bickle he creates an unstable killer that you sympathize with. He is crazy but vulnerable. Innocent and psychotic. He is, as Betsy describes him, "A walking contradiction."
My only real complaint with the story is the epilogue, which seems a little too neat. Too Hollywood. Roger Ebert, among others, has conjectured that this ending takes place inside Bickle's mind rather than in reality, but Scorsese has contradicted this theory. It doesn't really mar the the movie as a whole, but it does mean that it ends on a weaker note than if it had ended without it.
If you only know this movie because of that one famous scene with that most famous of lines, than you definitely owe it to yourself to watch it. Particularly now that Scorsese and De Niro have actually been talking about making a sequel all these years later. Perhaps they should talk to Coppola about the wisdom of reviving a beloved film from the 70s, but either way, if they make it, I'm sure I'll see it.
Jodie Foster as Iris has breakfast with De Niro's Travis in Taxi Driver.
The story holds up well, as does De Niro’s riveting performance. Travis Bickle is deservedly regarded as one of the great characters in screen history. Scott, you hit the nail right on the head when you called him innocent and psychotic. Travis is definitely a psycho, but he is also a lost little boy struggling to fit in to a world he didn’t create and doesn’t understand. His clumsy attempts to woo Betsy are poignant and awkwardly funny, but like everything else Travis does, they are also a bit disturbing.
The supporting cast is memorable. Besides Cybill Shepherd as Betsy there is a baby-faced Albert Brooks as her fellow political campaigner and the man Travis sees as his competition. Peter Boyle has a few good scenes as an advice-spouting veteran cabbie known as Wizard and Harvey Keitel is (perfectly) disgusting as Iris’ long haired pimp. Steven Prince makes the most of his one scene as Andy, the gun salesman, “Isn’t that a little honey?” His sales technique is as eager as any late-night infomercial pitchman.
A twelve year old Jodie Foster gives the second most indelible performance as the underage hooker Iris. Like Travis she is a walking dichotomy, an innocent lamb that is also wise beyond her years. The 1970s was definitely the era for young actresses playing age inappropriate roles. Foster’s Iris is up there with Linda Blair in The Exorcist and Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby in the “uncomfortable to watch” category. The scene where her pimp sweet talks her while slow dancing with her, remains one of the creepiest moments from any movie.
I agree that for the most part Taxi Driver tells a believable story. There are a few scenes however, including the ultra violent climax, where Scorsese tries too hard to shock. The hold-up of the corner bodega that Travis witnesses is one. Did the store owner really have to start beating the would-be robber’s lifeless body? And the scene where Scorsese appears as the jealous husband talking about shooting his cheating wife in her pussy is a blatant attempt to be controversial.
I really enjoyed the Bernard Herrmann score with its brassy horns and dramatic crescendos. It evokes a noir like atmosphere and adds a layer of cinematic timelessness to the movie. Taxi Driver isn’t a perfect movie but, as Scott already mentioned, it is so damn iconic that I cannot in good conscious give it less than four stars. De Niro sporting that mohawk haircut and wearing that green army jacket is a movie image for the ages.
An introvert chose a job that involves meeting many people?
I agree with Roger Ebert. The ending is a complete and utter fantasy of Bickle's, even if Martin Scorsese may suggest otherwise to open the possibility of a sequel. If that is the actual ending, then this is far less of a film. Only in Bickle's mind could he be a hero praised endlessly in the papers, and thanked by Iris's parents for her complete recovery from drugs and prostitution. Only in his mind would Betsy look longingly at him as he drives away from her. This movie is grounded in harsh reality. The ending, if not imagined, contradicts everything that came before it.
We are never given details on Bickle's background, but we are given hints. He was a veteran and has two parents whom he never sees. In one early scene, we find Bickle lying in bed while his night stand is covered with prescription bottles of medications. We are never told what they are all for. When doing pushups without his shirt on, we see a huge scar on his back. Was he wounded in the war? Was he a POW who got tortured? We never know how Bickle became the wounded soul that he is, we just know that something has happened to him.
He has very little ability to relate to other people. He genuinely thought it was appropriate to take Betsy to a porn movie on their first date. He did not mean anything by it, he is just far too removed from reality. As they leave the porn house you can see a theater across the street that is showing Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction. Bickle had other options, but not the sense to employ them.
The true genius of Taxi Driver is that we can all relate to Travis Bickle on some level. As disturbing as that may actually sound, it is the truth. Have we not all been in situations where we did not feel comfortable? Have we not at one time or more thought just how disgusting parts of our world has become? Mostly we can relate to Bickle because he just wants to not be lonely. Who has not felt that way at some point in their life. As crazy as Travis may be, he is a very relatable character.
It is a fine line Deniro walks in his portrayal of a man looking for something to give his life meaning. This is one of the greatest pieces of acting ever put on screen. Deniro could have gone bigger and made him nuts. He could have gone smaller and made him even more nuts. Deniro found the right tone and keeps it consistent the entire movie. Travis Bickle reminds me of that one guy in the break room at work who out of the blue, makes an off the wall comment or joke that no one else seems to get. I am sure you never met anyone like that.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (1976)