Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Thoughts on Taxi Driver

Few films have aged better than Taxi Driver. There are films that are old and timeless by virtue of being vague. It order to do it right, though, you have to have a contemporary film set in modern times about contemporary issues. It’s the time capsule of a depraved era, when the now tourist trap of NYC was a seedy place of high crime and porn theaters.

Of course the world you see is that of the protagonist, Travis. One scene has always stood out as the most important. After he commits his first slaying, Travis watches a dance television show completely unaffected as the juxtaposition of uplifting music highlighting his despair, and indifference to his crime. He sees shoes on the floor which subliminally suggest the loss of life, but he only cares about his own. The score in general does its job as a counterpoint, highlighting his loneliness with its beautiful, charming, calm notes by Bernard Herrmann. Re-viewing it there’s another scene, acted by its director Martin Scorsese, that foreshadows the event. Describing how he will slay his wife, Travis remains more or less disaffected.

Counter-intuitively, as its director put it, it’s a feminist film because it dissects the pathological aspects of the male ego. Travis is a man forgotten by society. He is depressed and only worth what he can produce. After his understandable rejection by Betsy he does the most he can do as a man emotionally, and seeks help not from an institution, but the older, experienced mentor figure from his work. It turns out not to be enough.

Despite the film’s dark turn, Quentin Tarantino is right to call it a profoundly funny film. The scenes with a low-key Albert Brooks, DeNiro’s portrayal that completely lacks in awareness, a few moments with Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel. Travis’s self-defeating nature might be funny to subjectively criticize, but for a young man it might be the closest thing to a celluloid psychological mirror of depression.

The ending has lead to a lot of speculation, a large number of people speculate that it’s a dream. This is because of the surreal quality of the final battle’s scene, and the return of Betsy into the life of Travis. More plausibly, the ending is written implausibly. Less understood is the fact the final fight sequence had it’s color de-saturated to avoid an X-rating, leading to its surreal quality. Betsy’s turn at the end is her revelation. She’s no longer the untouchable Madonna, like Travis driven by lust, she seems driven by Travis’s new-found “hero” status.

What stands out more than anything is the quality of the film to represent what otherwise would be unimaginable. Correctly adjusting its 70s environment for the bleak, cynical eyes of its character provides a realism most might not have been brave enough to live, let alone examine and record.

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