Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

An excerpt from my close reading of Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese's 1976 masterpiece:


Taxi Driver is the great American filmic text of the 1970s. Though the decade produced a number of exemplary works, when it comes to capturing the malaise and disillusionment of 1970s America, nothing comes close to matching its brilliance. Representing the peak of New Hollywood, Taxi Driver functions as a cultural work that captures many facets of life from the time period it was made during. From start to finish, it is nothing but a character study, and a masterful one at that, of Travis Bickle. But after thinking about and analyzing everything once the movie has ended, we realize that it has really been an accurate and truthful study of 1970s America the entire time, just from the point of view of a mentally unstable man with destructive tendencies. Taxi Driver effectively touches on so many subjects, from the disingenuousness of American politicians purporting to represent the working class, to the instability of race relations, to the decay of urban cities, to the formation of white male identity and aggression, to the specter of Vietnam, to the myth of the American hero, the list goes on and on. Nevertheless, the root of the film that holds all of these branches together is loneliness.

Despite Travis’s proclamation that he is “God’s lonely man,” one of the most fascinating things about Taxi Driver is how it manages to make us so invested in a character who is lost in darkness. Strangely enough, the reason why is that deep down, we can all recognize a part of Travis in ourselves. Hopefully most of us haven’t experienced it to the same degree that Travis has, but like him, we all long for a connection with another person because it is in our nature as human beings to be social creatures. As Travis’ thoughts and actions turn more violent as the story progresses, it all stems from his inability to find another person who he can "save" and maintain a meaningful relationship with (he tries but goes about it wrongly with both Betsy and Iris). Perhaps the film might best be understood as a nuanced critique of the inherent solitude that comes with being a part of American society, which alienates people by placing so much emphasis on the individual. The film’s original tagline, “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody,” demonstrates how we tend to focus so much on ourselves that we are bound to feel alone, even when we are paradoxically surrounded by thousands of other people who feel that same exact sense of disconnection (just as Travis does in NYC). As llustrated by the potency the film continues to resonate with 40 plus years after its release, Taxi Driver remains a timeless film; Travis’s isolation is not just about displaying the turbulence of 1970s America, it is more broadly about the harsh alienation that defines American society at any time, based on its core principles. To a certain extent collectively, we are all, and forever will be, Travis Bickle.

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