thelistislife42’s review published on Letterboxd:
Get comfortable, cause this is gonna be a long one.
In 1866, Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment was published. It is now considered one of the benchmarks of classic literature and one of the all-time greatest of its form. It follows a young man named Raskolnikov, who turns to violence and killing for what seems to him to be his and the world's benefit. During this time, he befriends a teenaged prostitute. A major theme of the novel is that of the "superman" (also called the ubermensch or extraordinary man).
German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote on the concept of the superman. In simplest terms, he is a man who seemingly possesses the moral highground. If the ends are noble, then they must justify the means. Or at least, that is the philosophy behind the superman. Friedrich Nietzsche also popularized the idea of the superman in his philosophies. This philosophy fuels Dostoyevsky's work. Raskolnikov, the central character, turns to violence and killing, believing that the ends of a better world justify the means of bloodshed. Other various characters see themselves as supermen, as well, viewing themselves as always in the right, and, by extension, always deserving of power, and, once again, by extension, always omnipotent.
Fast forward 110 years. In 1976, American filmmaker Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver was released. It is now considered one of the benchmarks of classic film and one of the all-time greatest of its form. It follows a young man named Travis Bickle, who turns to violence and killing for what seems to him to be his and the world's benefit. During this time, he befriends a teenaged prostitute. A major theme of the film is that of the superman.
Obviously, there are some similarities between the novel and the film, and don't get me wrong. This is no fault of Scorsese or of those who worked on his film. In fact, such inspiration only elevates the film and the character of Travis. He considers himself a superman. He sees all the scum and filth of New York City without realizing that he himself is among the worst of it. He sets out to make things right in the world without realizing that he is one of its problems. And he begins to feel indestructible and omnipotent. This makes him one of the best antiheroes ever put to film. The idea of making the world better through bloodshed is an old one. Francis Ford Coppola explored such a theme in the motivations of Michael Corleone in The Godfather films. More recently, similar motivations drive Thanos's character, which is a major aspect of what makes the most recent Avengers film so solid. It is interesting to see characters who believe with such conviction that they are right, and yet, are very much wrong. Characters like this fuel great storytelling. They're complex and ambiguous and interesting. Travis Bickle is all of these, and he is the centerpiece to one of the best films I've ever seen.
Travis as a character only elevates an otherwise stellar film. Paul Schrader's writing is interesting and smart. Scorsese directs excellently. This film shows perfectly why he is considered one of the all-time greats. The cinematography is stunning, with clever angles, beautiful images, smart framing, and a gorgeous portrait of NYC. The editing is perfect, creating a great rhythm that makes the film flow. The use of slow motion is probably the best I've ever seen, and Bernard Herrmann's score is remarkable. The performances are of course all amazing. Robert De Niro gives one of the very best performances ever put to film, Jodie Foster is excellent, Cybill Shepherd is very good, and Harvey Keitel is like a Tommy Wiseau who can actually act. All of this, the excellent pace, and the insane climax make this easily among the twenty or twenty-five best films I've ever seen.
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