Taxi Driver is one of those films I’ve been meaning to watch for years. I was certainly aware of the fact that my expectations of the film have been influenced by a hundred different parodies, but still it was not exactly what I expected.
What struck me most about Taxi Driver was how much time is spent creating atmosphere, and how successfully it is created. A lot of shots of the city at night, through the cab windshield. Darkness, hazy streetlights, all night diners and adult cinemas. Encounters with the “scum” of the city – prostitutes, drug addicts, a man who wants to shoot his wife in the face. And the slow, sort of sleazy jazz theme that repeats throughout the film – all of this works to put us in Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) head, to help us understand his disgust and anger.
There were some things, though, that didn’t completely make sense to me. Like why Travis thinks it’s normal to take the girl her likes to an erotic film on their first date, and why he is so surprised when she walks out. Travis seems like a reasonably smart (if mentally unbalanced) guy apart from this scene.
A few other unanswered questions: Why can’t Travis sleep at night? Why is he – of all the night shift cab drivers – so affected by the city’s seedy underbelly? We know he used to be a marine who fought in Vietnam. Has he been jaded by the war? Come home to find his own city lawless and corrupt, like a jungle? I don’t really know if any of these questions need to be answered. They certainly make Travis an interesting character.
I also felt like there was an undercurrent of racism coming from Travis. More than a few suspicious glances cast in the direction of African Americans he encounters. And he doesn’t seem like he wants to talk to the only black cabbie in the taxi driver circle. Maybe the racism is intentional – another side effect of Travis’s experiences in the war.
It should be mentioned that Peter Boyle is amazing as Wizard, an older cab driver.
Overall, a classic film. Great atmosphere and suspense throughout.
Taxi Driver, released in 1976, was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader.