Fellow movie lovers, what do you think of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver?

To tell you more about it, here is the review I wrote when I was a member of SensCritique; it dates precisely from January 9, 2018…

Taxi Driver Review

Review Title: He who wants to be an angel becomes a beast

Summary: Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes up driving a taxi in New York to escape his insomnia and the disgust he feels for the corruption around him.

After a failed romance with the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who works in presidential candidate Charles Palantine’s campaign organization, Travis ends up buying a whole set of guns. He practices.

Travis meets teenage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) and convinces himself to save her from her hell. After failing to murder Palantine, he reroutes to Iris’s room and shoots the men who “possess” her. He fails to commit suicide after his ritual act and makes headlines. He resumes driving his taxi.

No need to retell this film that everyone knows, the above plot is enough to bring it back to mind.

What is this film worth? What is it worth forty years later?

From the outset, in Taxi Driver Bernard Herrmann’s haunting and disturbing music, made of brass and saxophones, exerts a hold. Bernard Herrmann, musician of Hitchcock’s films, is known for his “psychological” music. But in this film it accompanies and underlines Martin Scorsese ‘s unusual camera which films and follows the taxi wandering in the night of a gloomy and debauched New York. It is sometimes disturbing and theatrical, sometimes voluptuously round and nostalgic, with a broad and intimate saxophone. This music gives an epic quality to a film that can be described as a masterstroke by a young beginner in 1976, Martin Scorsese, although he had already shot four feature films.

When you watch this film casually, you immediately see that it is an amateur attempt at genius. Amateur, because the “aspect” of the film implies it. But “amateur” in the sense of “researcher,” because precisely this “aspect” of the film proves the genius of the filmmaker: what idea to film fixed close-ups of details of a taxi? And make narrative shots out of them? Why not art photography? … In any case, it is clearly giving a visual aspect, a style to the film, the Scorsese brand. And what about these “extra-scenario” scenes, like the one with the street drummer who plays in the style of Gene Krupa, a scene paying homage to the famous forgotten drummer. And the one in the hotel room with Travis and the arms dealer in the style of a salesman? Who noticed the subtle Scorsese metaphor? Heard what sounds like children’s cries at recess quietly coming from the open window, as if in counterpoint to the drama that is playing out in this room? Opposition good/evil? Drama/innocence? This is why, among other things, the amateur researcher Scorsese is a genius with Taxi Driver. Because, not only is his film overall a jewel of the seventh art, it is also a renewal in the approach, the story and the narrative brilliance. Martin Scorsese is American, but of Italian and Catholic origin. The context of his education and what he took from it made him a Renaissance filmmaker, and like her he likes to celebrate humanity in its nobility and its obscurity. Hence this cinema that is both dazzling and sulphurous. Scorsese, in Taxi Driver, is direct. No convolution or nonsense, at least at that time. In a way, with Taxi Driver he updates and renews the great era of RKO film noir. Eighteen years later, Tarantino will make the same Cannes heist with his Pulp Fiction, succeeding, like Scorsese, in making an auteur and mainstream film at the same time and winning the Palme d’Or. Very few films have succeeded in this marriage before 1976. Scorsese is one of the first. Today, the auteur/mainstream exercise is slightly more frequent and will probably become more and more so. This is a good omen.

Taxi Driver is a total work, which is based on its own concept, that of the frustrated loser who is searching for himself, searching for a meaning to his life according to his not very open reasoning. He is like Don Quixote, locked in his universe that he believes to be the only truth, he wants to do well, he is looking for a cause, wants to cleanse his soul. It is also a “prison” film as there are “prison” filmmakers, no need to cite examples here, what I say is only a “formula” that takes nothing away from the talent of the works produced by these particular geniuses.

Taxi Driver, a film that is more psychological than existential, a grandiloquent and sulphurous drama, offers an atmosphere that permeates the memory through its sound universe, as well as a moral reflection: do we know any Travises?

But who is this Travis, exactly?

Several elements give us a portrait. We know that he is returning from Vietnam, a former Marine no less. He is insomniac, hyperactive, manic, depressive, stubborn, a diehard (the scene of his body preparation in weapons, with pistols everywhere, even in the sleeve – up to the knife in the boot, as a last resort, you never know…), he works at night, goes to see porn, swallows pills… Already, with that in the file, no need to be a professional shrink. To this we can add that the film makes us understand that he lacks culture, calm conversation, he is not very open because he has not received the “solicitations” of stimuli to this effect in the story of his life. He is a loner. He is lonely and rough. Frustrated because he is deficient. In everything. In addition, he is coming out of the hell of Vietnam and the ideological discourse of the paratroopers and American patriotism. Travis is still in the trauma of “order and morality” that the military software immediately transmits to minds that are not inclined to discernment and that imbibe quickly, that we more commonly call weak minds. Then Travis does not seem very resilient. On the contrary, he lets himself be carried away by his disgust. He seeks a meaning in this life, something so radical that would resemble for him a chivalrous, epic act, an act of bravery for the good of this rotten society, he thinks.

The famous scene: “Are you talking to me?”…

We all know Travises. Maybe we were even Travises when we were young. Today’s Travises sometimes go to Syria. They are Travises, people who feel sent by an external force to a path that seems to them to be the only possible truth. Blinded by their reason, psychologically locked away by an ideological corpus, they leave and give themselves and act with the certainty of the angel – and act like the beast. This attitude that some of us may have had at one point in our lives, I would call it the “Travis stage” (if there are any shrinks here, I claim the paternity of this expression). Travis is only a caricatured “model” of a social fact. In the film he is saved by the happy ending, since from beast he is redeemed into savior, he is an angel. An exterminating angel who saved Iris (Jodie Foster) from the throes of prostitution and the clutches of a disgraceful pimp.

Martin Scorsese, in 1976, achieved an amateur masterstroke. This is also one of the charms of the film.

In fact, the title of this review “Who wants to play the angel plays the beast”, which is a quote from Pascal, does not apply so much to Travis as to Martin Scorsese. This title designates the film, Travis secondarily.

This film therefore has no vocation to generate Travis among us, since they already exist. But how many of them will exorcise their societal malaise in murderous fury? The occurrence is statistically rare, even exceptional. This “Travis stage” in fact evacuates itself for the most part, it is like a psychic stage in certain moments of our life, for those who have known it.

Taxi Driver remains to this day as watchable and enjoyable for discerning moviegoers as for the general public, 40 years later. A beautiful and deserved success…

Eric O.

Travis and porn cinema…

Travis with Iris’s pimp (Harvey Keitel)

In the center, Iris (Jodie Foster)

The metamorphosis of the exterminating/purifying angel…

Brief appearance (cameo) of Martin Scorsese in the film…

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