52 – Taxi Driver (1976)

Travis Bickle: Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.

 

Seen before?

F: Yes – three times I think

R: Maybe half a dozen times now.

 

Thoughts?

F: The last time we saw this was in a concert hall with a live orchestra. That’s a fairly incredible way to see any film really! But I found myself paying much more attention to the score this time around as a result. It’s perhaps my favourite thing about the film.

R: Duh….. Duh….. Duh….. Duh….. Duh…. Duh… Duh.. Duh.. Duh. Duh. Duh. Duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duddah-duddah-duddah-duddah…. BWAAAAH! Yep, that recurring motif from the score is a pretty good summary of how the movie plays out. And I agree it’s a vital ingredient to the film – it’s impossible for me to imagine it with any other soundtrack.

F: Here’s a question for you… Travis Bickle: Hero or sociopath? Or both?

R: Or… neither? For me he’s not manipulative enough to be a true psychopath, and his frustration with late night New York is really pretty understandable. When he starts feeling his darker instincts rising up he seeks out help, but the city is so fundamentally isolating that the only advice he can get is Reader’s Digest wisdom from a fellow taxi driver. For me the city is the real villain of the piece.

F: [SPOILERS] I disagree, I think he is clearly mentally unhinged. He manages to control himself but then, because he doesn’t get the chance to shoot the politician (which is not something a sane person would consider) he goes on this rampage. He’s not thinking about his actions – Iris could get caught in the crossfire, there could be people working undercover to expose these people – he’s acting on impulse. Plus who takes Cybil Shepherd on a first date to a dirty movie?! [END SPOILERS]

R: I’m not saying he’s a role model; he’s obviously got some pretty serious character flaws and does a few things I don’t think anyone would condone. But didn’t you have any sympathy for him?

F: Of course! I feel very sorry for him in fact. He’s clearly got issues which he’s unable to find help for and he’s very lonely. And being insomniac does not help any of that.

R: This is of course what’s so smart about the film – you feel his heart is in the right place even when he’s totally off the rails. We need of course to give Jodie Foster a mention too. It is mind-boggling how good she is in this.

F: I’d go as far to say the greatest child performance of all time. For most of the film she looks much older than 12 but there are moments – especially when she’s in the cafe with Travis – where she looks so much like a child that it’s really unsettling. 

R: I’d go as far to say her stand out performance makes the film. So darkly plausible.

F: All the performances in this are great though (even Martin Scorsese!) Special shout out to the hair cuts too – Harvey Keitel’s just losing out to the mohawk for me! 

R: The mohawk reveal is such a great shot; and I’m sure you could write a thesis about hair-as-state-of-mind on the basis of this film. What do you make of the political sub-plot? Is Palantine just there as a potential assassination target or is there more to it?

 F: It probably reflects American political history at the time. Not an area I’m overly familiar with though. But I think it does highlight the disconnect that can occur between politicians and the people living in a city. I’m a little confused as to why Travis turns on Palantine. Is he not satisfied after their conversation in the taxi? Or is it because of Betsy? 

R: I guess the most obvious explanation is that Travis is hurting from his rejection by Betsy, and channels his anger and disillusionment into targeting Palatine. But this is what makes the film so great. Despite what’s really a very simple plot, there is so much to get your teeth into, and I noticed a ton of new things on this viewing I’d not clocked previously (including Scorsese in the background outside the Palatine campaign building!).

 

Is it worthy of the top 100? 

F: Definite yes.

R: Of course it is.

 

Up next:
51 – West Side Story (1961)
Previously:
53 – The Deer Hunter (1978)

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