Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver ★★★★★

It's funny, I must have watched this film five times before I clocked how much of Travis's animus is driven by racism. What I first pegged as his general misanthropy is now so clearly rendered as his hatred of black people. Marcia Lucas's editing exquisitely reflects this aspect of his nature, from the darting glance toward and quickly away from the black cabbie who hangs with his friends to the frequent slo-mo of him staring at black people walking by.

Travis's journals and voiceover monologues reference "filth" in an abstract sense, and the manner in which the film captures his zombified insomniac state also makes it so easy to identify with his headspace. (One of the eeriest things about coming back to this film for the first time since right after I graduated college is how easy it is to relate to him after working the gig economy.) In broad strokes, it's so easy to understand his rage, but through editing we see the specificity of his grievances, the all-too-reactionary hatreds that turn all of Travis's screeds into blaring dog whistles.

Notably, Travis is not an isolated figure in an otherwise neglectful but relatively normal society. I say this in comparison to, say, Joker, which pays lip service to social ills and malaise but generally skirts any real engagement with them. Here, Travis is surrounded by the anger and racism of others, in scenes such as Scorsese's terrifying cameo as a cuckold fantasizing about murdering his wife, or the bodega owner saved from a black robber by Travis who proceeds to snap and savagely beat the man's corpse as he lets Travis drive off to avoid the cops. Travis is merely the unvarnished version of this rage, unable to hide it under social graces, and the dead-eyed intensity of DeNiro's body language and voice-over narration communicate the man's emptiness.

That Travis ends up venerated by society in the end, so soon after he could have gone down as a monster and assassin, is the film's final, and most devastating insight. The bit where we hear Iris's father send Travis a message, read aloud in the same halting, fierce cadence as Travis's earlier narrations about Betsy, is a chilling echo. Travis, once rejected by society, is now fêted by it, though it's obvious that he'll break bad sometime in the future, maybe even worse than the first time.