2016 Blind Spots: Taxi Driver

So this is the first film in my 2016 Blind Spot series and I don’t think I could have picked a better film to start off with. Martin Scorsese is one of the best directors working today but I’ve not seen many of his classics. I’ve seen Goodfellas but most of my experience with Scorsese is with his recent films and I figured I’d use the Blind Spot series to cross off some of those films and I decided to start with Taxi Driver. Now I’m not going to do a full review for any of the Blind Spot films, just a few thoughts, but I feel I can get across everything I felt in these thoughts.The element of the film that affected me the most was the complete isolation of Travis Bickle and his feelings towards the outside world. It’s clear that Bickle is seriously disturbed and has nothing but contempt for society but there’s no basis for it. His anger is baseless and he even goes against some of his contempts. He hates sex but goes to porn theatres, he abhors drugs but uses speed. He has all this anger at the outside world but when he tries to explain it he comes across as a rambling psychopath, terrifying those around him but it’s this that makes Bickle such a compelling character. His thoughts don’t have any coherence because there is no coherence in Bickle. It’s also clear that he has no idea how to interact with anyone else around him. He stays clear of the conversations with the other taxi drivers, he goes on a date to a porn theatre and doesn’t understand why that’s a bad idea and this further enforces the isolation that he feels, which can be seen as a general reflection of the isolation felt by Vietnam veterans following the war. This growing insanity and depravity is brilliantly sold by Robert DeNiro in probably the best performance of his career. He puts you inside the disturbed mind of Travis Bickle, forcing you to see just how lonely and disturbed he is, along with showing how violence is the only language that Bickle understands, his most coherent thoughts coming about from violence, with the ending showing how the cycle of violence will always continue for someone as psychotic as Bickle. His performance is matched by equally strong performances from Jodie Foster as teenage prostitute Iris (with there being a lot of vague details about her character, such as why she ran away from home, that make her a really interesting character, along with her relationship with her pimp played brilliantly slimily by Harvey Keitel) and Cybill Shepherd, both of whom provide some humanity to Bickle but cannot detract from the depravity inside his mind.

The film also does a good job putting you in Bickle’s world through the direction and cinematography. New York is presented as incredibly seedy, grimy, dark, the constant smoke mixing with the darkness to put you in a really uncomfortable mood throughout. You know something is wrong with society here and this hellish depiction effectively puts you in the mindset of Bickle throughout the film. The bursts of violence throughout the film are also directed brilliantly, all happening fast and brutal. There’s no glamourisation here, all the violence is ugly and brutal and only someone like Travis Bickle would find any fulfilment in there. This is matched by Bernard Hermann’s excellent music, which creates this foreboding atmosphere to the film, unsettling you right from the start.

There is also a great bit of commentary in the film regarding the media and violence in relation to Bickle’s act at the end of the film. Bickle gets portrayed as a hero by the press for killing three people to rescue Iris from her life of prostitution and return her to her parents but the media could very well have demonised Bickle as he planned to assassinate a Presidential contender but the Secret Service noticed him before he could. This is great commentary about how violence is justified in the minds of the population and how the humanity of certain groups of people is wilfully ignored because of the actions they commit, their deaths being justified by the media and the person who killed them lionised.

I’ve found this to be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve written because it’s almost indescribable the feelings you get watching Taxi Driver. The atmosphere that the film creates is something no other film has come close to replicating and is what makes Taxi Driver such a powerful film but atmosphere is the hardest thing to write about and when the atmosphere is what makes a film so powerful, any review of the film would be difficult. But yeah, Taxi Driver is an incredible film and once you’ve seen it, it’s easy to understand how it got the reputation it has.

My Rating: 5/5


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