Despite its outsized reputation, I never warmed to Taxi Driver. Aside from dull lulls in segments of the film, what really alienates me from Taxi Driver is Bickle’s uninterestingness (to me). Where an Alex De Large or Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant are perhaps more immoral than Bickle, they are more flamboyant and colorful personalities. I simply can’t think much of a character who, say, is utterly baffled when his date flees a porno theater, or decides to institute a harebrained vigilantism, and the film is so held on the shoulders of such a figure. What this signifies to me is a complete failure on Scorsese’s part to even understand what could constitute a worthy fictional protagonist. I have no problem with crazy. Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher is crazy. Yet Haneke doesn’t make any implicit demand for identification with her, we only watch to see what happens next. With Taxi Driver, I constantly got the sense that Scorsese actually thought Bickle revelatory of our own personal issues and experiences, which I think either laughable or sad. He’s a cretinous, colorless character masquerading as some kind of everyman. One minute he evinces a fairly sophisticated handle of courtship/flirtation (in Cybill Shepherd’s office), then the next he takes a date to a porno theater and then cannot comprehend his gaffe?
I write off Taxi Driver as a film because indeed its protagonist is entirely too problematic and the narrative is very meandering and drab until its pyrotechnic conclusion which I found hilarious.
I respectfully disagree.
Bickle is the entire model of an isolated person who will eventually commit violence.
That shooting in Arizona? Same model. Very similar story.
You haven’t know a lot of people, have you, Tervarian.
I’m not at all suggesting that Bickle-types do not exist. That much is obvious. I take issue with the way this particular character was developed, which I didn’t find persuasive or very coherent. Schrader/Scorsese’s transitions from the mild-mannered, somewhat awkward Bickle who we meet initially, into the stalker, into the schizoidish avenger seemed hamfisted, and without proper context (a sense of the long turmoil such an individual has been steeped in, any drugs or medications contributing to Loughner-types’ warping, etc.) , as if merely seeing Times Square filth and possessing a general malaise is likely to convert someone into a deranged pimp killer. But this is restricting my objections to the character. I thought the film sometimes rambling and unfocused, and the visual aesthetic quite ugly unlike in most of Scorsese’s later films (I don’t think mirroring the state of the streets at the time ample justification).
Hm. Significant words you use are fictional, flamboyant, colorful, as well as similar connotation behind your uses of sophisticated and worthy. The problem I am having with your reading here is that you’re arguing for the, say, Hannibal Lector model of representation as opposed to the Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer one: characters that are interesting because they are those things that you mention, colorful, flamboyant, and fictional. They are also ridiculous, comical, and unreal. Henry showcases one of the most brutally textbook realizations of what a serial killer actually is: no be-caped slasher haunting the shadows of the streets and quipping special calls to celebrity shows with forced philosophical irony about culture and humanity, but a dude rotting in a ghetto apartment taking out his rage in detached, unconscionable violence.
Things you’re missing from Taxi Driver is that Travis Bickle is racist, hopeless, and wrong. You cite the porno theatre date twice as a reason for disliking him as a character. Yes, that’s the point — the reveal that shows a man so out of tune with social mores, so emotionally undereducated (not to mention detached) from his life as a soldier that he is alienated from us. Citing feeling alienated from him as a criticism is missing how sick he is represented to be. If Scorsese means for us to “relate” to him (and Scorsese does), it’s for us to attempt to explore/comprehend how people like that can come to exist (a) and how they are nurtured or at least looked-over by some of the degenerate parts of our society (b, porno theatres and 13 year old prostitutes and detachment from our representatives and other dirty streets thrown into alleyways out of sight but for the taxi drivers that deal with it all as it seeps out nightly). Perhaps there’s a bit of populist rage in his complaints but that initial attraction is meant to turn into fear as you see him become a literal monster.
And it may not be realist, but it’s more honest. Alex de Large and the Bad Lieutenant are fun, but fake.
I mentioned the porno theater incident twice because I honestly find it glaringly incongruous, because of what we’re shown earlier, when he’s picking up Cybil Shepherd in her office. He very skillfully managed to tread that tightrope between bold and creepy, and from what I recall (beaming faces of her coworkers) charmed everyone in the office with his approach. Somebody who possesses this ability would never take a WASPy young woman to a porno theater on a first date, period. I view that as a mistake on Schrader’s part rendering the character nonsensical as a creation, and excuseful intentionality regarding the scene is completely irrelevant to me. And there is nothing fake about Keitel’s character in Bad Lieutenant. Even the most outrageous scenes (masturbating in front of the teens, shooting in the convenience store) are fairly tame given what we know of cases of extreme conduct by city police officers. Perhaps I should have emphasized that not only did Bickle seem unrealistic (to me), but that he was also colorless, not that a film helmed by a bland personality is necessarily doomed.
“Where an Alex De Large or Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant are perhaps more immoral than Bickle, they are more flamboyant and colorful personalities.”
Yeah, he’s supposed to be extremely moral and even more so, really, extremely colorless. That’s the entire point of his alienation. He doesn’t connect because he doesn’t have the flamboyance of Keitel’s Sport, the down-to-earth cynicism of Boyle’s Wizard, the worldliness of Foster’s Iris, the ideals of Shepherd’s Betsy, the almost joyous rage of Bickle’s cab patron (played by Scorsese) or the comedic irreverence of Brooks’ Tom.
The entire point is that he’s a supposed “everyman” that has no ability to connect with any man. Hence, calling him a “walking contradiction.”
“Somebody who possesses this ability would never take a WASPy young woman to a porno theater on a first date, period.”
Ah, the single easiest argument to defeat I have ever seen…
So, you’re such an expert on human behavior that you know exactly how every single person will react to every single situation they are ever presented, now and forever? No? Then how can this absolute be absolutely true?
Arthur Bremer was one of Paul Schrader’s inspirations for the character of Travis Bickle.
Do “crazy” characters have to act “crazy” all the time? Are they not allowed to have certain social abilities even if they lack others? Is Scorsese supposed to hold our hand and explain why this character couldn’t understand why taking a girl to a porno theater isn’t okay? I don’t get the feeling that Travis Bickle is supposed to be “revelatory of our own personal issues and experiences,” although he does seem to be revelatory of a specific type of experience. It seems like you are lamenting the fact that Taxi Driver isn’t a glamorous, straightforward portrayal of mental illness and violence.
Yes, Wu Yong, without a doubt nobody who evinces the degree of social adeptness on display by Bickle in that scene would believe that a porno theater is anywhere near a proper venue for a first date with the kind of woman he was taking out. And on the off-chance somebody did do something like this, it was either deliberate (which would preclude being bewildered by the woman’s reaction), or becomes a dealbreaker as far as my investing the least ounce of sympathy in such an individual. Voila.
And how exactly is Bickle extremely moral? Because someone is disgusted by pimps and child prostitution? The film had these lines of indignant narration synced to shots of people horsing around on the street or committing some mild offense, which I think failed to provide a compelling rationale for Bickle’s rage. Yes, the streets are f*cked up, but Bickle seemed to take some morbid satisfaction in wallowing in the atmosphere and thoughts of urban squalor.
Travis Bickle is a Vietnam War vet – not an insignificant detail.
“Yes, Wu Yong, without a doubt nobody who evinces the degree of social adeptness on display by Bickle in that scene would believe that a porno theater is anywhere near a proper venue for a first date with the kind of woman he was taking out.”
You utterly failed to answer the question. You just restated the same vague, “he wouldn’t do it because I say he wouldn’t do it.” Well, if I said he would we would be in quite the intellectual deadlock, wouldn’t we?
The problem with adhering an absolute on human behavior is it usually tends to do two things to the person making the absolute. 1) Force them to expand upon their obvious incredible understanding of the near entirety of human thoughts, emotions, ideals and reactions. Or 2) It tends to flesh their own lack of understanding of even basic elements of the range of human action and reaction.
“And how exactly is Bickle extremely moral?”
He certainly believes himself to be, doesn’t he? Maybe that’s why the film, that took on his own perspective, saw his own moral absolutism described in seemingly meaningless minutia. Almost as if Bickle’s ‘wallowing in the atmosphere of urban squalor’ was having some sort of adverse, extremist effect upon him… as if his simple inability to connect to other human beings (he describes himself as “God’s lonely man”) led to even watching simple, daily human action to drive him to an extremist conclusion… Or, in other words, “Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”
I shall proceed then. Yes, I’m such an expert on human behavior that I know the aforementioned sequences of action by Travis in the film utterly improbable and separated by a disjunction that effectively shatters the character’s coherence. My many years on planet Earth in the capacity of a keen observer of human behavior has provided me this expertise. This is an assertion I could only further support by sending you a copy of my groundbreaking treatises in behavioral psychology, bringing a genius to the psychological field only hitherto encountered in the works of Freud and William James, alongside the reviews by prominent academics in the relevant peer-reviewed journals (I would never seek to manipulate you by providing cronyish blurbs).
Next they’ll have me believe that unbalanced traumatized U.S. soldiers with combat experience may snap and go on killing rampages and murder innocent civilians. What a load of bullshit!
Bickle needed them to be pimps and criminals so he wouldn’t feel too bad about killing them. He needed a rational target for his irrational rage. He’s no avenger, he just needed to lash out, and he was lucky his victims weren’t exactly innocent.
The attempted assassination is very ambiguous if I recall. Betsy and Brooks’ character worked on the campaign, so there’s resentment from Bickle. Not as if he’s getting revenge, but there’s some antagonism. He knows nothing of what he’s doing, he’s childish, he’d probably prefer to not think about what he’s doing because it would stop him from doing it.
“Next they’ll have me believe that unbalanced traumatized U.S. soldiers with combat experience may snap and go on killing rampages and murder innocent civilians. What a load of bullshit!”
Because I was totally claiming the unhinged-vet-going-on-a-shooting-spree skeleton was incredible. Wonderful reading comprehension.
Travis Bickle IS a soft spoken, mild mannered nutcase. He is NOT a soft spoken mild mannered man who BECOMES a nutcase.
You guys have too much patience for this silliness.
Even Den wouldn’t say Shutter Island is more “psychologically incisive” than Taxi Driver".
(at least I hope he wouldn’t. hehe)
This “Greatest Films Ever” list doesn’t suggest an expert grasp of cinema.
01TESS Roman Polanski
02PULP FICTION Quentin Tarantino
03BLUE VELVET David Lynch
04MULHOLLAND DRIVE David Lynch
05THE NEW WORLD Terrence Malick
06THE GODFATHER: PART II Francis Ford Coppola
07STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Irvin Kershner
08NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Ethan Coen
09ANNIE HALL Woody Allen
10A CLOCKWORK ORANGE Stanley Kubrick
Sorry, but you asked for it.
’Tis but a joke?
This is why you shouldn’t make a “greatest films ever” list. It will always be used against you.
That’s why I always title mine “favorite.”
Bickle needed them to be pimps and criminals so he wouldn’t feel too bad about killing them
don’t we all to some degree, it’s an interesting thing, justification, vengeance etc recently watching Snowtown I realised I could stomach the one killing scene shown in the film because I’d seen that guy brutalising another…when it looked like a scene was leading up to the torture killing of some poor homeless innocent I knew I would have to turn it off, just couldn’t have gone there. The film doesn’t either, but it was an interesting observation of myself I thought.
Re favourite lists, very dangerous ….which is why I say I couldn’t possibly choose except I think Bresson’s Balthazar will never be toppled from my No 1
Mubi: Where I come to read crazy shit.
Taxi Driver’s cultural resonance is enormous – remember John Hinckley?
I’m usually pretty disturbed when an artist wants me to enjoy an unsympathetic character’s suffering. In Gravity’s Rainbow a certain something happens to a villain toward the end, and I was horrified, not so much at the thing itself as at the fact that Pynchon wanted readers to laugh as they were reading. And a novel isn’t even as ‘real’ as a film! You can suspend disbelief much more! I don’t understand…
“Taxi Driver’s cultural resonance is enormous – remember John Hinckley?”
And, of course, Schrader based many of the details of Bickle’s pathology on the diaries of would-be assassin Arthur Brenner, who stalked Nixon before finally settling on George Wallace as a target—the relationship self-sabotaging via porn, for example.
yes, i mentioned Bremer. (i forget many younger people wouldn’t know who these people are, just by name. lol)
Taxi Driver has been my number one film or there abouts since I first saw it in 1992. So I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments on this thread. I can understand why somebody might find Travis’ decision to take Betsy to a porno film a bit jarring, as it was for her, but Travis had lost all sense of self and was looking to the outside world for cues. He saw couples at the porno cinema and wrongly assumed it would be okay to take Betsy. He says as much when he tries to explain it to her. As for her agreeing to go out with him in the first place that’s no big deal. I’m sure plenty of women have agreed to go out on a date with a guy off the back off a good first impression only to be completely turned off after spending some time with him. That fact that Travis managed to make a good first impression just goes to show that even the mentally ill can have their moments. They just can’t sustain it.
First Taxi Driver, and now the same user ripping on 2001 in another thread. Looks like someone’s trying to yank our chain. (which it turns out is really easy to do.)