Taxi Driver

I’ve waited for this moment for 6 years. To see ‘Taxi Driver’ on the big screen. I missed two previous opportunities, one in 2006 showing in Ireland and the other last year in Japan.

Finally I got to see it here in Hong Kong during the Hong Kong international Film Festival. Perhaps a fitting place to see a film about loneliness in an urban environment and because it’s a film that has inspired Hong Kong Directors such as John Woo and Wong Kar Wai.

When people asked me before what my favorite movie was I always listed a few films as I thought if there were a “best movie ever” for me I hadn’t seen it. That was until one late night the film was showed on Irish television. Why do I think the film is the best film ever made? Four main reasons.

Martin Scorsese: One of the world’s greatest Directors. He perfectly captures through the eyes of Travis the loneliness of the city and conveys an emotional response through imagery alone. Take the examples of Travis talking to Betsy over the phone, the camera slowly moves away from Travis as it’s simply too pathetic to see. We both pity and dislike that character. Scenes of Travis in his Cab watching the streets as he drives around shows not only his loneliness but his detachment from life and disgust for the society that surrounds him that he is also part of.

Bernard Herrmann: Perhaps the greatest Film composer of the 20th Century who created some of the most memorable scores in film. Films like Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Man who Knew Too Much, Cape Fear, Citizen Kane. His last score would be for ‘Taxi Driver’. He died hours after completing it and I believe it to be one of his finest works. Unlike the bombastic offerings in his Hitchcock films this is more intimate. ‘Taxi Driver’ is Neo Noir and Herrmann gives it a score in the vein of film Noir with Saxophones and a slow jazz beat capturing Travis’s personality as he slowly spirals downward into his world. You sometimes hear the out of control jazz band signifying a persons mental breakdown in movies but here it’s slow and ominous building up to a dark final. It captures the atmosphere of New York city, the dirt and grim, the vibe of it’s society at night.

Another Key piece of Music is the Song ‘Late for the Sky’ by Jackson Brown. Not everyone remembers it because it’s played on the TV Travis is watching of Dancing couples, however it is a key scene to the Movie. Travis again watching from the outside at the people dancing on screen, the dancers holding each other close in their embrace. Travis looks on knowing he can never have that. The arms of another. He both desires and hates what he sees and it sickens him.

Paul Schrader: wrote the script when he was in a bad place in his life and by pouring his own experience into it he made a deeply meditative story on alienation in the city. He himself was living in a car and spent nights watching porn films. He was not only inspired by his own experience but also by Arthur Bremer, who shot a presidential candidate in 1972 and had also written a diary on it. Inspiration was also taken from Dostoyevsky’s ‘Notes from the Underground’ though I personally see ‘Crime and Punishment’ having more similarities to the story.

Robert De Niro: One of his best performances along with ‘Raging Bull’. He drove around in a Taxi in New York for weeks in his preparation for the role. The famous line “Are you talking to me?” was improvised. Being a method actor he poured himself into the role to the point that the actor disappeared and only Travis remained.

Some people watch this movie and start off liking Travis but are put off by his actions later on in the movie. Quite frankly, that’s the point. You sympathize with the character and find him almost likeable up to a certain moment but this is a character who is out to kill people, who plots to kill a presidential candidate, he is supposed to cause us to be uncomfortable.
Travis’s own salvation is to save the 12 year old prostitute he meets by chance. In a way to bring order to the world around him and the world in his mind he decides to kill the men holding her.

Upon first seeing the ending it felt very dream like. Something out of Travis’s fantasy in the last moments of his life. Or perhaps everything in his mind was a fantasy. It almost seems too perfect that Betsy shows up again at the end having softened her stance towards him when she realizes he’s now a hero. Martin Scorsese has said though that the ending is not a dream. At the very end Travis sees something in his rear view mirror, it seems to be himself and for a moment he is troubled. His world still hasn’t changed.

Favorite Quote: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets” – Travis Bickle

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