Taxi Driver is unequivocally one of my favorite movies, and next to The Last Temptation of Christ it is one of Scorsese's finest films. It is what one looks for in a perfect piece of cinema: quotability, cinematic grandiosity and an enigmatic yet accessible narrative that causes viewers to debate its meaning and argue over its social commentary well past its initial release. There are a slew of excellent films from the seventies, mostly from the hands of Francis Ford Coppola, however, Taxi Driver, as well as Robert Altman's Nashville, reflect the essence of the seventies, particularly the political disillusionment and sexual abjection. However, as pertinent to the time of release as Scorsese's film may be it has a clearly timeless element about it that makes it so damn enjoyable some thirty-five years later and its brilliance cannot be denied. The accessibility of the film is not an easy thing to locate, because it is clearly a challenging film that does not offer its viewers quick answers and certainly procures more answers than solutions. It is art house cinema meets traditional Hollywood in something so unique and lasting that it has undeniably influenced cinema in a lasting way.
Taxi Driver focuses on the rather unusual experiences of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) a New York taxi driver with a clear disdain for the citizens of what he believes to be a lost city. Travis, suffering from a severe case of insomnia, decides to roam the streets of New York finding meaning for the malaise that is his inconsequential life During one of his day time routes he discovers the headquarters of political candidate Charles Palentine (Leonard Harris) and one of its employees Betsy (Cybil Shepard), to who Travis takes an instant liking. While initially successful with his approaches to Betsy, he fails to woo her after taking her to see a pornographic film and is left alone yet again. As a result, Travis begins to wonder the streets yet again and encounters an extremely young prostitute named Iris (Jodi Foster) who also goes by the unfortunate name of Easy. Travis makes it a goal of his to remove Iris from her unfortunate situation, given his own definition of an ethical world, which defines that Iris is stuck in a terrible situation and must be extracted from it, despite her own personal opinion of her lifestyle. Travis attempts to simply ask Iris to leave, but her inextricable ties with her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) who clearly has his own feeling for Iris. As a result, Travis accrues a large amount of fire power and raids the house in which Iris stays only to receive opposition from Sport and his various lackeys. Left wounded, Travis is able to fend off the various attackers and save Iris from her situation only to become the praise of local newspapers. The film then cuts to Travis returning to his job as a taxi driver, escorting Betsy to a random event. Travis then looks into his mirror and the film ends in the same pace of disparity as when the film began.
There are three interpretations that I have come across when looking at analysis for Taxi Driver, two that are clearly incorrect when approaching such a complex film. The first is simply to claim that the film is a reflection of the dire state of New York during the seventies, this interpretation is obvious. The second is to read the film as an attempt to affect political change in a world of indifference, this reading is possible, however, the film only deals with this concept in portions of the film and even then it is in a very passive manner. Instead, in my opinion, the most pertinent reading of the film is to call it a dreamscape relating to the mind of Travis Bickle. If one is to look at this film as such it is easy to read the film as a subconscious romp into ones darkest desires. Travis continually claims his loathsome relationship with New York throughout the film and it helps to explain how in his own mind that he could kill a large amount of criminals with little trouble from the judicial system. Furthermore, if one looks closely at the film instances that occur throughout the film are clearly tied throughout the film, whether it be Travis's presence during every conversation at the Palentine headquarters, or what could be clearly his imagination creating a scenario between Sport and Iris. However, what cements the film as a possible dream narrative is the bookends of the film which have Travis looking into the rear view mirror of his taxi car, implying that he is lost in his own personal thoughts throughout the film, thoughts which become the surreal, absurd landscape for almost two hours of cinematic brilliance.
Taxi Driver is magical in its existence and the recent bluray transfer is phenomenal, getting a copy is mandatory for even the most minimal of film libraries.