Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed film Taxi Driver centres around protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), an honourably discharged U.S. marine that suffers from chronic insomnia, loneliness and depression.
Upon his return to New York, Travis finds refuge and initial solace as a taxi driver. But Travis, working primarily at night, encounters a muddled and disturbing city nightlife filled with prostitutes, perversion, drugs, crime, violence and racism, among other things.
Despite being out and about in the external world, the protagonist prefers to spend most of his time in his head, leading him to repress his anger (he eventually begins a journal and we are privy to his musings in voiceover). His apartment and cab become Travis’s safe havens and end up being the only places that he can express himself comfortably (albeit internally).
We learn that Travis desires a romantic partner with whom he can confide in and enjoy his free time with. Things don’t go so well for him in the dating game (first date to a porn theatre anyone?), and ultimately he is left with loneliness. Travis deals with the frustration of the bleak New York nightlife and his lack of connections with another person, by strengthening his body through rigorous physical training. Travis intends on putting this training to use as a means of cleaning the streets in ways that the politicians refuse to do.
Scorsese’s Taxi Driver represents the dark side of urbanization: whether it’s the polluted nighttime streets, filled with material filth as well as human degenerates, or the glaring lighting and unfriendly atmosphere presented, Scorsese’s New York is not a place where you want to be. Through his interactions with the city streets and street dwellers, Travis demonstrates that despite the various pluses of urbanization, everything has its down side.
Roger Ebert called Taxi Driver “a brilliant nightmare, and like all nightmares it doesn’t tell us half of what we want to know. We’re not told where Travis comes from, what his specific problems are, whether his ugly scar came from Vietnam – because this isn’t a case study, but a portrait of some days in his life.”
Drawing some comparisons to the film we screened last week, David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), both films follow a disturbed male protagonist through an unrelenting and unpleasant world that we, the viewers, have difficulties relating to or identifying with. Taxi Driver, unlike Eraserhead, is not a surrealist film and presents itself in a clearer, more realistic style.
Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival in 1976 and was also nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score, and Best Picture. Scorsese’s newest film with Leonardo di Caprio, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), certainly resembles the misanthropic New York depicted in the earlier feature, but both are a far departure from Scorsese’s wildly successful family film Hugo (2011).
Please join us for a free screening of Taxi Driver on Wednesday, Feb. 12 @ Artspace (378, Aylmer St., between Hunter St. and Simcoe St.). The show begins at 8pm.