Even after four decades, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), portrayed by legendary Robert De Niro is still a masterpiece in the cinematic world. Set on the emotions of a Vietnam war veteran, his PTSD, failure to convey emotion, loneliness of a metropolis-Taxi Driver is an unforgettable tale of solitude and violence. Sameer Mohammad Mubeen reviews the movie.
MARTIN Scorsese’s unorthodox storyline about a taxi driver in New York City still remains as one of cinema’s unforgettable masterpieces. It isn’t a story about mobs or gambling, neither is it a typical New York City film. It is simply the story of an everyday man who finds it difficult to cope up with society and life, in general. What makes the film so good is that it is an extensive first person study of the character featured here.
The film is about loneliness and the life of a taxi driver seems like the perfect metaphor from that time period. Travis Bickle, a taxi driver who previously served in Vietnam is the protagonist in this cinematic masterpiece; a role perfectly portrayed by Robert De Niro in his heyday. Although driving through a city full of people, it seems as if Travis only finds loneliness while seeking for life. It proves how the city that never sleeps can still be a very lonely place. Isolation works as a catalyst for Travis, as he slowly turns more and more violent with the passage of time. He turns into a bomb ticking down and ready to blow up any moment. Travis is driven to insanity by intense feelings of desolation, melancholy and woe. He’s always on the edge of sanity as he gets very annoyed at people. That would still be an understatement as he already seems to be tired of people; everyone. What makes Travis such an enthralling character? It’s the ambiguity in his principles and morals. That being said, we cannot glorify such a character and accept all the violence with ease. This makes him the perfect antihero. It also leaves the film open to interpretations and gives it monumental cinematic values.
Along the storyline, Travis has numerous encounters with people from all walks of life. He falls in love with a blonde girl, Betsy, who’s working under Palantine for the upcoming election. Travis tries to get his feelings known but fails miserably every single time they meet. But it’s quite clear how Betsy still remains as the focal point of his attention. He becomes obsessed with her as he waits down the road staring at her. It seems as if he finally found some peace and tranquility. She’s exactly what he is not, yet feels for her unconditionally.
Later, Travis meets a crazy guy who states that he’ll blow his wife’s face up with a .44 magnum due to marriage problems. Travis finds it really difficult to keep an eye contact with the stranger, played by the director himself, Martin Scorsese. Suddenly his fantasies turn into reality as he gets the urge to buy weapon and ammunition to complete his ‘task’. Under such circumstances, his obsession with relationships slowly fades away as he wakes up to become someone else; someone that he never was. He’s always expressed how he wants to clean the scum off of the streets and believes that someday it’ll all be possible. More about his moral ambiguity becomes noticeable as he grows a soft corner for an underage sex-worker, Iris. He tries to talk her out of such a dark and menacing world, yet sort of fails to convey the message.
Loneliness and isolation turns into a dangerous weapon for Travis. Consequently, he fails to connect with anyone that he meets and expresses rage towards them. This might make him seem to be the most alienating of movie heroes but I’m positive that most of us have felt the same or even worse. But we deal with it better than the man portrayed in the film; or worse. He feels as if he’s misunderstood and still desperately seeks for some sort of company. You really get drawn into the confinement and outrage that Travis is feeling towards these scoundrels and in light of that you truly start to sympathise. The enclosed shot in the taxi creates a suffocating environment that he’s trapped in, giving us a sense of claustrophobic vibe. Scorsese directed the shots so well that we usually look at a very crammed back seat although there’s only an individual sitting there. This builds up more tension and lets us get a more intensive analysis of the characters present in the shot. The same can be noticed when we take a look at the room that Travis resides in. It is filled with magazine, junk food and the windows are mostly locked or have bars on them. This defines how confinement and an unhealthy life can easily be the recipe for a disaster. In order to discover an outlet for his disappointments, Travis starts a program of extreme physical training as well. But he was still a bomb ready to explode as soon as the timer goes off. And so it happens, in a blood bath. Travis does something that cannot be justified; doesn’t need to be either.
The ending scene keeps the film open to interpretations due to its ambiguity. Perhaps it was just a dream or another day in work. It’s the movie starting over once again. Betsy remains seated in Travis’ taxi while they’re having a conversation. It shows the hidden desires of both Travis and Betsy, like Betsy does want to give him another chance but Travis somehow knows it won't work out because he still has so much rage inside him, so he doesn't want to get involved again and contaminate the one good thing he knows of; Betsy.
Sameer Mohammad Mubeen is a student of North South University.
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