Taxi Driver is a cult film by the great contemporary director Martin Scorsese. In 1976, the picture became one of the most significant works presented at the Cannes Film Festival, and was awarded the Palme d’Or.
The main role of a New York taxi driver, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a young, slowly losing his mind sociopath, was played by the famous American actor Robert de Niro.
A lot has been written about Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and all critics are unanimous that the film is a masterpiece, that De Niro played brilliantly, and that in the cinema of the 1970s there is no stronger and more talented film with a neo-noir atmosphere. However, as soon as it comes to the personality of the protagonist, the harmonious chorus is replaced by polyphonic opinions. Some critics consider Travis a typical psychopath, others are convinced that we have a story of a veteran who has not found himself in a peaceful life, others consider the night taxi driver as another reincarnation of a “little man” in the American style. Meanwhile, the answer to the question “Who is Travis?” very important: without it it is impossible to understand the meaning of the film.
What is the movie “Taxi Driver” about?
The main character, twenty-six-year-old Travis, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Suffering from a mental disorder. Has trouble sleeping and works as a taxi driver, exclusively at night. He doesn’t care “where to go and whom to take.” At first, he does not understand his purpose, there are no goals and aspirations. Since he lives alone, he trusts his personal diary. In general, the line of loneliness is elegantly worked out in the picture. Despite numerous scenes of communication between the protagonist and passengers, bystanders, colleagues, the viewer is not left with the reflection of sadness and emptiness in his eyes.
Watching every night what happens to society when “all sorts of scum creeps out at night: whores, pimps, thieves, blues, tramps, drug addicts. Sick and vicious,” Travis feels personally responsible for what is happening, but does not understand how he can change it. “I want to go out and do something that… I don’t know!” And yet, it is not as simple as it seems. Scenes in which the protagonist talks to himself in front of a mirror make the viewer feel the need to wait for something all the time.
Wanting to fill the void around him, Travis strikes up a relationship with a young woman named Betsy. She works on the staff of Senator Palantine, who is running for the presidency. Not having perverted inclinations, he brings the girl to a film that is too explicit. Betsy angrily leaves the cinema. And he doesn’t want to see Travis anymore. In a temper, Travis breaks into the beauty’s office and shows himself not from the best side. “He’s made of contradictions.” This is how Betsy described him.
In part, this is true. Travis showed not quite adequate and contradictory behavior. But throughout the film, the viewer is given to understand that he is much more adequate than those who have adapted well in society and have no psychological problems. In contrast to the main character, a man is shown who tracked down his wife and watched her from the windows of Travis’ taxi. He mockingly calmly told the dumbfounded taxi driver how he would kill his wife: with a shot in the face or between the legs. “Lovely sight! Do you think I’m crazy?” This question is addressed more to the viewer. So that he appreciates the act of a normal, socialized person. After all, the paradox is that in an extreme situation, a normal person can do something that will frighten even a mentally unhealthy person.
A key moment in the film is Travis’ meeting with Iris, a teenage prostitute who accidentally got into his cab. All the dirt, abomination and manure pit that the protagonist spoke about throughout the film was localized in this meeting. And it must be admitted that the attempt to dissuade the girl from prostitution and the money given to her to return home showed Travis from the best side. He showed the height of adequacy in a monologue of persuasion.
Perhaps the only controversial and incomprehensible act Travis committed when he attempted on Charles Palantine, whom he first sympathized with, and then decided to kill him. Fortunately, his plan failed. It’s hard to say what motivated Travis: the desire to deal with the next presidential candidate, who promises a lot, but changes nothing. Or ruin the career of Betsy, who rejected him.
Belated teenage rebellion
If Travis’s personality could be characterized unambiguously, “Taxi Driver” would not be a masterpiece. There is something elusive, doubling, vague and contradictory in this hero. For example, he is a veteran of the Vietnam War: this is emphasized not only by his insomnia and ability to handle weapons, but also by his desire to resolve all issues by force. But at the same time, Travis is not tormented by memories, he does not seek meetings with other veterans, he does not refer to this period of his life in any way, and it seems that the war is a thing of the past for him. Or take the maniacal desire to “cleanse” society: it paradoxically coexists with the nightmarish unsanitary conditions in his apartment – for some reason Travis does not care about the real dirt.
At the same time, several main features can be distinguished in the image of a night taxi driver. The first of these is suffering due to the poor quality of life (despite the fact that Travis earns normally). He is, by and large, no one, and no one in this world needs. The feeling of being unclaimed torments Travis and gives rise to a desire to “show everyone what he really is worth. The second trait of De Niro’s hero is a deep social dissatisfaction, for which there is every reason: the night world in which he lives is really disgusting. And the third, most interesting, is personal and psychological immaturity.
By and large, Travis never matured. As befits a teenager, he combines an interest in pornography with extreme idealism (the latter manifests itself in the story with Iris, where Travis plays the role of Don Quixote), and everyday ineptitude with a penchant for fantasies. Like all teenagers, Travis is prone to radicalism, denial, opposing himself to society. And so that the audience has no doubts, he writes a letter full of fantasies to his parents and keeps a diary.
What is the meaning of Travis’ diary?
The diary is a very convenient way to reveal the inner world of the hero, but Scorsese introduced his film not only for this reason. The diary highlights Travis’ complete, utter loneliness, with no one to talk heart to heart with. His attempts to go beyond formal communication, the chatter of fellow taxi drivers “about nothing” inevitably end in failure. Even the smartest of them is unable to understand Travis – and he does not fully understand himself.
What is the meaning of the image of Betsy?
The beautiful and well-groomed girl Betsy, who works in the campaign headquarters of Senator Palantine, is the embodiment of everything that Travis lacks: well-being, love, mental and physical comfort. Perhaps that is why Travis was so drawn to her, but the very first steps turn into a failure: it turns out that the social codes of Travis and Betsy do not match. Travis does not understand how to treat a girl, Betsy is repelled by his ignorance and that simplicity, which is really worse than stealing. Failure with Betsy makes it clear to the viewer that no matter how bad the world in which Travis lives, the real source of his problems is not outside, but inside.
This place is inhabited primarily by women who are not for him. The unreachable blonde, who may have found him attractive for a second, agreed to have a cup of coffee with him, and then discussed him with others, sighing, “That Travis is so strange.” And even more cruelly, there are so many men in this city for whom these women are absolutely available, from stupid corrupt politicians to street pimps. And these men have a mystical common feature – they all easily find their way to any woman, never having received a lapel turn.
Theoretically, Travis could work in another part of the city and get good money, but he is irresistibly drawn to 42nd Street to Times Square for prostitutes, street junkies and porn. It is here that the most ugly and perverted sex is all in plain sight – sex that is bought, sold and used by people as a commodity. Travis doesn’t need it, he hates it, but Times Square feeds his grudge. His sexual dissatisfaction has found its outlet in a wild hatred for the scum, which he closely watches. He tries to break the vicious circle, but does not dare.
Why did Travis start killing?
He sees a beautiful blonde woman ( Cybil Shepard ) working on the lower floor of the office where the presidential candidate’s campaign headquarters is located. She agrees to meet Travis a couple of times. The second time he takes her to a hard porn movie, she runs out of there in complete disgust and from that moment does not want to see him. However, he calls her and asks for a date. It is here, precisely this moment, that is the most important in the film. Director Martin Scorsese gives us a close-up of Travis on the phone, and then, just as the girl says no, the camera suddenly pans to the right and looks down a long, empty hallway. It’s very Antonioni style. Scorsese considers this shot to be the most important in the film.
Why? Because, he says, it’s unbearable to look at Travis during his excruciating pain. It is very interesting. After all, a little later, when Travis started killing everyone right and left, the camera moves so slowly that we have considered the whole crazy nightmare in great detail.
It turns out that Scorsese finds the pain of Travis’ pain unbearable to watch, and the murders – please watch! And all this just to better understand the character of Travis Bickle, and perhaps all the violence that happens in the city. Travis was systematically put in his place, so often that at some point he had to hit back.
What is the meaning of the image of Senator Palantine?
If the relationship of the hero with other characters in the film is quite understandable, then with Senator Travis goes a long way from sympathy to the desire to kill. First, the eternal teenager just did not make an idol out of this person, and then, making sure that Palantine is an ordinary politician-demagogue, he decides to kill. At the same time, it is likely that Travis does not feel much hatred for the senator, but it is vital for him to prove to himself and others that he is capable of something more than cracking down on a black robber. And at the same time, he attracts the attention of the guards in advance, as if doing everything to be noticed and the attempt did not take place.
What is the meaning of the image of Iris?
The story of the “rescue” of a 12-year-old prostitute is the clearest proof of both Travis’s half-childish naivete and the failure of his crusade against evil. Iris does not understand him in the same way that Betsy did not, and clearly does not want to be rescued. If in the end the girl still ended up at home, and did not die from a stray bullet, then this is more an accident than the merit of Travis.
Why is Travis changing his hair?
A strange punk haircut marks the protagonist’s entry onto the warpath (by the way, the Mohawk was originally worn by Indian warriors). There is another opinion. Thus, the film’s cameraman M. Chapman, who considers “Taxi Driver” an urban legend about a werewolf, sees in the change of hairstyle an indication of the duality of the protagonist, who turns from a small man into a bloody avenger.
Why does Travis stay alive?
From the first frames, the taxi driver gives the impression of a doomed person, and the gradually increasing degree of violence confirms this impression. It would seem that Travis’ death, either at the hands of a policeman or at the hands of a pimp, would be eminently logical – but it does not happen. Death would turn the story into a tragedy, and Travis into a true hero, but this pleasure is denied by the director and screenwriter.
What is the meaning of the last frames?
In the finale of the film, everything returns to normal: Travis continues to turn the “steering wheel” of a taxi, colleagues continue to talk about nothing, Betsy is further in chocolate, and Palantine is in big politics. Unless Iris returned to her parents, but Travis was written about in the newspapers. Judging by the expression on his face, such an ending to the “rebellion against society” suits him more than. And here we come to the answer to the question about the meaning of the film.
What is the meaning of “Taxi Driver”?
Like any great film, “Taxi Driver” has many semantic layers, and every viewer can find something for themselves in it. One of the most obvious ideas of the film is that it is impossible to escape from yourself, and if you want to change the world, first try not to change, but at least try to understand yourself. Travis rushes around in a vicious circle throughout the film, not because American society is mired in vice and corruption – although there is some truth in this. This circle is outlined by his character, his internal problems and psychological immaturity, and therefore whoever he kills, he will eventually end up in his usual place.
In the first minutes of the film, Travis seems to be just a gloomy loner with an inflamed psyche, who has lost the meaning of life, but continues to live. Exactly until we remember the beginning – military affairs. The fact is that the action of the film takes place in the 70s. It was then that the war in Vietnam died down, which claimed and broke the lives of many young American guys for the rest of their lives. People who survived the death of their friends and comrades-in-arms in that massacre, for the most part, turned into such neurotic loners, unable to fully return to society after the war and everything experienced, remaining under the supervision of psychologists and social services.
In the film, we are not told about Travis’ past, but if we substitute this event for the plot, then everything comes together in one whole frightening picture. The guy who gave all his strength to his country, in the end turned out to be an unnecessary outcast with a muddy past and a shattered psyche.
So what is this movie? Global social message or meaningless rubbish about a sick person? More like something in the middle. More than 40 years have passed since the release of the taxi driver! And the film has not simply lost its relevance, but has multiplied it in the modern world with its frantic rhythm of megacities and turning a person into an apathetic rag without strength and purpose in life. Cities where most people don’t care about each other, just to survive and succeed in this meat grinder, ready to do disgusting things for their own interests. And in this place, a loner with a mental disorder does not look so scary and even noble.
But at the same time, it is also a warning that self-isolation and the cultivation of hostility towards others in your head can lead you to extremely terrible consequences.