“Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.”
Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed) and starring Robert De Niro, is a snapshot of Travis Bickle, a disturbed and lonely Vietnam War veteran who works as a taxi driver in New York City. The story and the man are conflicted: wanting to do the right thing, but not equipped to handle the intricacies of every-day life, vacillating between right and wrong. Travis’s growing hopelessness and descent into madness are poignant and sympathetic, leaving the viewer wondering where to draw the line between good and evil.
The story begins as Travis applies for a job as a taxi driver, which is more of a setting than a plot device. We quickly find out he’s carrying a lot of emotional baggage, presumably from his time in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He keeps trying and failing to make meaningful connections with other humans, and eventually gives up and resolves to dedicate his life to something bigger than himself. Tensions rise and eventually explode as Travis struggles to answer the questions of what’s really right and what cause he wants to give his life to.
All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.
The character of Travis Bickle is what Taxi Driver is all about. There are only two scenes that do not feature him, and some of the most memorable scenes in the movie are of him alone, either in his small apartment or his taxi cab. Travis is a portrait of loneliness and mental illness in America. You can tell he’s aware that there’s something off about him, and he even reaches out for help at one point, but he’s tragically unable to solve his own problems. Moral questions are raised, but just like Travis, we don’t get solid answers. It’s a fascinating character study on a unique character, and the movie does that exceptionally well.
It’s hard to sum up what I felt about the movie. Travis Bickle is simultaneously charming and repulsive, pitiful and dangerous, insightful and blind to the world around him. He’s a complicated character, and I don’t know that the movie really dictates to us how we should feel about him—it just tells us what he’s like. Regardless of how you end up feeling about him, this movie will force you to think deeply about the many conflicting parts of his character and how they add up to the whole man.
Taxi Driver was engrossing and thought-provoking, but it definitely required some reflection and emotional investment. It gets off to a slow start. The sultry jazz soundtrack, while lauded by many, I found dull and repetitive. So it may not be as accessible as other movies on this list; but the movie was masterfully made and has proven to be unforgettable. If you’re looking to relax as a thrilling story unfolds before you, this is not it; but if you’re wanting to think and experience a character quite unlike any other, this is a masterpiece. It’s a movie I think everyone should see in their lifetime. Just make sure you’re in the right mood or you may find it a bit tedious.
Nominations: Best Picture (Michael Phillips, Julia Phillips), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert De Niro), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jodie Foster), Best Music, Original Score (Bernard Herrmann)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Genres: crime, drama