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Travis Bickle is an ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran living in New York City. As he suffers from insomnia, he spends his time working as a taxi driver at night, watching porn movies at seedy cinemas during the day, or thinking about how the world, New York in particular, has deteriorated into a cesspool. He's a loner who has strong opinions about what is right and wrong with mankind. For him, the one bright spot in New York humanity is Betsy, a worker on the presidential nomination campaign of Senator Charles Palantine. He becomes obsessed with her. After an incident with her, he believes he has to do whatever he needs to make the world a better place in his opinion. One of his priorities is to be the savior for Iris, a twelve-year-old runaway and prostitute who he believes wants out of the profession and under the thumb of her pimp and lover Matthew. Written by
"Taxi Driver," starts off with a beautiful and perfectly fitting score from composer, Bernard Hermann, as we see the blurred city of New York as the fast paced lights from cars and signs are distorted and put into slow motion. "Taxi Driver" is one of Martin Scorsese' finest achievements as he teams up with Robert De Niro. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is the title character and this film really is all about the performance of Robert De Niro. The acting as a whole is exceptional. Harvey Keitel has an extremely small part as a pimp named Sport, and he brings a forgettable character to center stage as he and Travis have some quick and excellent scenes together. Keitel is so good in this you wish you would get to see more from his character. Jodie Foster plays the prostitute under Sports rule. Iris, is 12 years old, and for a 14 year old actress (at the time), Foster deals with some heavy and extremely adult material and handles it very well. Keitel and Foster have a scene together where Sport holds her and slowly dances with her as he whispers into her ear about how lucky he is to have a woman like her. It's an utterly repulsive scene. The look on his face mixed with the calm and safe look on the face of Iris, is pretty terrifying. It's extremely well acted even though it's a pretty quick and minor scene. In this one scene we see the type of control Sport has over the young, impressionable child that he abuses and takes advantage of. These are the kinds of things that sets Travis Bickle off. The film is a classic that dissects the fallout of one mans loneliness and his thirst for acceptance, recognition, and notice. The editing is very good, the direction is great, but it's carried by a magnificent script from Paul Schrader and a great lead performance. This probably stands as De Niro' second best work to "Raging Bull," and among the finest acting performances of all time.
Travis Bickle is the self proclaimed, "God's lonely man." Bickle walks amongst the people on the filthy, crowded streets of New York City. Wherever he goes, he goes unnoticed; like a ghost meandering through life's morbid boredom of repetitiveness as each day endlessly runs into the next. Bickle suffers from an inability to sleep so he goes to the porno theaters after 12 hour shifts and still can't sleep. His mind is constantly racing as he takes various forms of pills and abuses alcohol. The former Vietnam Veteran has a damaged psyche that continues to get worse and worse as the disgust for the lowlifes of New York eat away at his consciences. The first act of the films starts with a normal looking man, with a regular hair cut and regular job in an irregular city. We watch Bickle go through everyday routines and his work habit is the main focus to derive attention away from his bloodlust. We don't see much wrong with him other than some signs of frustration. He decides that his body needs some fine tuning as he reverts back to his days as a Marine and trains for battle. He meets up with a gun dealer and buys three pistols and a .44 magnum. He's ready for war as the table is set. There are some classic scenes throughout the course of Bickle' decent into madness that make the film so special.
The ending of the film is controversial for its vagueness and its inability to state a clear purpose of reality or fantasy. It's open to interpretation, but my understanding of the film is that it ends in reality, but I can see how one would think it ends in fantasy or is Bickle's dying dream. The film even hints towards a dream like state as we watch with a long running overhead shot (possibly signifying Bickle's departure from the world?) with motionless police officers. Then there's the music of a dream inducing state at the end of the scene, which is the strongest hint towards a dream like state. What we do know is that Travis Bickle takes the lives of lowlifes, degenerates, and the scum of the earth. He's treated as the hero and glorified by the media for his actions. This is a slap in the face to the media for finding that a vigilante did the right thing because it was for a good cause: Kill 5 scumbags, save 1. The final scene of the film is also controversial. We see Betsy for the first time since their big fight and she's no longer disgusted with Travis. Now the media has changed her opinion of him too. Travis has reverted back to the same look he spouted in the first act of the film. He's quite, reserved, and humble. He looks harmless. As the ride home goes along we find out that Palantine has won the nomination. After, Travis drops Betsy off, he leaves without taking her money and with a smile on his face he gives her a simple, "So long." You get the feeling that he's still not over the fact that she wouldn't talk to him and you also get the feeling that he sees her as just like everyone else. As Travis drives off, he menacingly looks back into the mirror, representing a problem still exists, then we fade back to the start of the film. With the symbolic scenes throughout the film depicting Bickle' brooding, boiling, rage within, this symbolizes the fact that nothing has changed. The near death experience doesn't cure him. The accolades from the media and the recognition from everyday people doesn't make it any better. He's still ready for war and his next target may very well be the botched assassination attempt on the new nominee, Senator Palantine, in just 17 days.
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