45 years later, the taxi driver is still relevant

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Columbia pictures

Am I talking to you Well you’re the only one here so I need to talk to you. 45 years ago a meme was born together with some one-liners, the origin of which can be lost in many. In 1976 it was a different world, however taxi driver touches on issues and circumstances that still exist today.

Modern society has done its best to sweep the crumbs under the rug. But the mess is still there, it’s just hidden. The thing is, there is a lot to unpack in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, more than Scorsese himself caters for an audience. For Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) it should be a simple redemption story. It’s a simple, dark fairy tale with a happy ending. However, art is often an independent unit and separate from the artist. The writer (Paul Schrader) and director (Scorsese) may have intended one thing, but the muses behind the film may have sent a different message. Pay attention to the phones throughout the movie. The first ring tones can be heard when he applies to be a taxi driver. His fate is calling.

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There are heavy subjects like water and liquids that run through the film. The water theme comes in the form of rain on the windshield that changes Bickle’s mind. Every time he reached a new stage of mental illness, the screen was washed with liquid as if to baptize the viewer. The trickling sound of rain in the foreground of the soundtrack is no mistake as Travis Bickle slowly evolves from who he is to who he wants to be. After all, the fluidity of his fate is not told through water, Coca-Cola, Alka Seltzer, Budweiser, rain or even a piece of Errol Flynn’s bathtub. Rain is trickling audibly in various scenes, but the trickle at the end is blood. He has done the cause and shares his fate with his base victims. The question for 45 years has been about Travis’ fate. Will he die in the end? Scorsese says no. De Niro says no. But the post-climatic scenes in which Travis Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) drives home, the newspaper clippings in which a “taxi driver” is touted as a hero, and the letter from the parents of Iris (Jodie Foster), the twelve-year-old prostitute, are a lot too polished compared to the rest of the film.

Travis is a retired veterinarian from Marine, Vietnam, who drives a taxi twelve hours a night, six or seven days a week. His story explains that he does it because he cannot sleep. He spends his time writing about how much he hates the filthy world around him when he doesn’t take it in to fuel his inner turmoil. He has nothing and nobody; only distant parents who play no role in the story other than being mentioned in his farewell letter to the world. He says that one day he will walk through her door, but he fully expects that he will die.

How did he get there? While still searching for beauty in the world, he gets a glimpse of Betsy who works in the campaign office for Senator Palantine’s (Leonard Harris) presidential candidate. After sneaking around outside the office for a while, he takes the courage to introduce himself and asks her for coffee and cake. He seems to think that she is a sad and lonely person and he almost offers himself as a solution to her suffering. He is looking for a reason to exist. He is looking for something other than himself to control. He judges everyone around him and wants to be the white knight of a virgin who is actually not in need.

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His sociopathic behavior usually goes unnoticed on the first date. Betsy just thinks he’s strange. But when he takes her to a movie, she is disgusted to find out that it is porn disguised as an educational film. Now she is in need and he continues to fall in his downward spiral to win her affection with flowers that never arrive and phone calls that go unanswered. In fact, phones ring and go unanswered throughout the film. Is that you fate Travis hears the rings but never acknowledges them. He drives past the campaign office after seeing Palantine on TV and the camera focuses on an unanswered phone. A faint ringing can be heard above the traffic and through the glass window. In the next scene, fate finds a new way to get its attention. While absent-mindedly thinking about his failure, he almost comes across a couple of prostitutes, one of whom is Jodie Foster’s character Iris.

Immediately after this scene, he continues to follow a path that he believes is the right one. He buys a collection of handguns from a “traveling salesman” who does a side gig selling drugs – another hideous character Travis Bickle only interacts with to explain his vague plot to assassinate the presidential candidate Betsy works for. to advance. He transforms himself into shape and designs a device with which he can pick up a pistol from the sleeve of his khaki jacket. He is marking the scene for an upcoming speech and is in conversation with an intelligence agent. Travis explains that he would be interested in the job. The agent realizes that Travis could be a problem and cunningly asks for his name and address. Travis is unconcerned if he gives a wrong name and address and thinks he is deceiving the agent.

He continues to practice a scene that never goes as his mirror expects. He writes his imaginary heroic moment when he expects to be justified in a murder. “Are you talking to me?” What we don’t pay attention to is that he is talking to himself. “Well, I’m the only one here.” He points to the viewer with a simple hint: “You are dead.” He really means it. When he finally meets Iris, she tries to get into his taxi to escape her pimp. She’s the only one he isn’t lying to. He promises to see his parents, but his letter to Iris says that if she reads it, he will be dead, only that he is not what he expects. He wants to give Iris enough money to go home to her own parents. He won’t need it because he fully expects to kill Palantine. He has no other reason than megalomania.

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He builds his confidence in the vigilante justice of a bodega robber, but when he arrives on the stage he’s set out to do, it’s done by the intelligence agents. He runs away and gives up his plan to assassinate the presidential candidate. Instead, he focuses his anger on Sport, Iris’ pimp (Harvey Keitel). Then he rages and kills everyone in the brown stone where Iris is kept. He even tries to kill himself but dryly fires an empty pistol. When the police arrive, he lifts his bloody finger to his head and imitates the shooting three times. So certain he doesn’t want to go on living, he kills himself three times before his head falls back and he actually dies. The camera angle tells us he’s dead, but Martin Scorsese denies it. Even the music tells us that a dream sequence is imminent, as if his final thoughts are of his heroism. The letter from Iris’ parents is read aloud and superimposed on newspaper clippings celebrating the killing of the gangsters. Everything that happens after this scene feels like a fantasy – like we’ve been invited into Travis’ head for the first and last time. It happens as he imagines, not how it would actually work. It’s too far-fetched to imagine an outcome where the Secret Service doesn’t recognize the man on the news.

45 years after Taxi Driver was first published, it is still debated. Since this film is still relevant after almost half a century, I would say that the character of Travis Bickle is very much alive, even if we believe he is dead. He’s a clear inspiration for another wretched character at the end of his rope who sees the world as something that needs to be purified. Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down (1993) is someone else who sees everyone else’s problems but cannot see his own. It is something that is all too common. Palantine’s campaign button says it all. “We are the people.”

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