Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Paul Schrader
This diary of a mad man is a bonafide classic. Lauded and considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. I’ll admit I spent a lot of time with it as a teenager studying film and thought very highly of it. After not watching it for more than ten years I sat down to it again last night and I can’t say I found the experience to be a great one.
Truth is, I just don’t love this movie. It’s a rare movie I once owned in the original movie collection but never made it to the next generation. Once upon a time before the turn of the century I had a fledgling movie collection of VHS tapes. I had about 20 something movies on tape before buying my first DVD, which was Se7en incidentally. I would say at least 90% of those movies made it quickly into the new collection on DVD but back then DVDs were expensive and I was selective. This movie didn’t make it because even being the junior movie buff I was then I only wanted it because I felt like I was supposed to own it. Truth was I didn’t like it enough to buy it on DVD and after watching it again I see why.
Taxi Driver made its way into the collection a few months ago as I was nearing where it would sit on the shelf. I again felt that compulsive impulse that I needed to own it. Whether I like it or not it’s a classic film that somehow gives validation to the collection as a whole. So I added it via Amazon as I rounded the Rs and entered the S section of the collection. When I finally reached it as the first T movie I was optimistic about watching it again but can’t say now that the optimism was rewarded.
I watch this movie and I get it, but I just don’t like it. I understand what the big deal is but still don’t buy into it. Maybe if I was watching it in the 70s or had some knowledge of New York City I would feel differently but this one just isn’t for me. I understand what it is supposed to be and is, but I think it is all just ugly. I think it’s an ugly story about an ugly character in an ugly world.
I have heard this hailed as Scorsese’s best work but I strongly disagree. I think it’s a fine example of his skill as a director but I don’t think it’s as good as Casino or Goodfellas. My favorite Scorsese film is actually Gangs of New York and that’s his best movie as far as I’m concerned. He’s made so many great movies at this point in his career it’s really hard to suggest any as his specific best. He made a statement in 1976 with this movie but I prefer the newer stuff. The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, the Dicaprio era as opposed to the De Niro years.
Robert De Niro is great as Travis Bickle but his slow descent into madness wouldn’t be described by anybody as exciting. This movie drags along for almost two hours as the title character grows more disgusted with society and more unhinged in general. De Niro may be great in the part but I hate seeing him play such an unlikable character. He is so awkward as Travis Bickle, even before he starts to drifts into madness. Travis is a sad and lonely guy. Such a fool he doesn’t realize it’s weird to take a nice girl out to a porno flick. Not at all the type of guy anybody should be comfortable with packing heat, much less an entire arsenal of firepower. Despite the “heroics” at the end I don’t think Travis is a protagonist. Was he being heroic in trying to save Jodie Foster in the end or did he really just want to kill some people and settled after he couldn’t kill the politician?
I remember from film class that there was a lot open to interpretation at the end of this movie. We see Travis redeemed and praised as a hero for his actions, even sharing a moment with Cybil Shepard who had dissed him earlier. It’s been suggested that this ending might be a dream sequence. That Travis actually died in the shootout and what we see at the end of the film represents his dying thoughts or something. Personally, I think people over think the whole thing when they ask this question. I see this movie as pretty cut and dry. To the point and very direct. I think for there to be a vague ending that makes you think is just out of line with the rest of the movie. I do find it odd that this mad man is perceived as a good guy and everything works out in the end but I don’t think it’s open to interpretation. I feel like such a question is like trying to squeeze orange juice out of an apple. The movie just isn’t that type of film and I don’t think it has the imagination to be open ended.
Travis is a character disgusted by how much is wrong with the world. He spends his time catering to the worst elements of society and its ugliness rubs off on him. I think the ending where he is the hero is simply ironic and another example of what was wrong with the world. Travis was just a lonely and deranged man. He was angry and needed an outlet for that anger. When his plan to make a big show of killing a politician fell through he went after the only other target he could think of and unleashed that pent up anger and frustration. Does that make him a hero? Two wrongs don’t make a right and vigilantes still go to jail.
I can see how people would like to think the ending was nothing but the product of his imagination. He wanted to be a hero and in his dying thoughts he imagined he had achieved this goal. I think the movie lacks that kind of creativity and it’d simply be a break in continuity to change it all up for the ending. Travis broke the law and wreaked some havoc but all he did was kill bad guys and save a preteen prostitute. On paper it makes for a good story, a reporter can take that and run with it. Nobody knows the guy is actually a psycho and had it not been bad guys it’d have been the man running for President. I think it’s an ironic ending and an example of how ridiculous life can be. Now, his moment with Cybil Sheppard is different, I don’t know what to make of that. Can’t see the poor woman taken out to a porno theater suddenly has a change of heart after reading the paper. More likely she would assume the pervert she once went on a date with had an outburst while visiting the prostitute as a customer.
It was Roger Ebert I think who started the whole theory that the end might be a dream and is one of the people who propped this movie up on a pedestal by calling it great. I don’t agree with him but who am I to argue with arguably one of the most famous critics of all time. I think the whole irony behind Taxi Driver is that like Travis being considered a hero in the end this movie is considered a classic. De Niro is a great actor and Scorsese is a great director but I for one don’t think this collaboration is all it’s cracked up to be. Is it worth your time? Of course it is, because it’s a classic. Despite my opinion of the film it’s too important for my discouragement to matter.
NEXT MOVIE: Team America: World Police (2004)