It was not, originally.
Tervarian said, 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….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.
I do think that Bickle captures concerns and frustrations that many people feel—especially the people living in large American urban centers in the 1970s. These concerns involve a feeling of disgust, frustration, anger about
>the filth—both physical and moral—in cities.
>the government’s inability to address these problems.
>the corruption of politicians
>the inability to achieve the American Dream—and for males this involves getting the beautiful wife.
I think this captures a lof the feelings of the time. At the same time, I think many people feel the same way today. Films like Parallax View, Death Wish, Blue Collar, The Friend of Eddie Coyle also tap into similar emotions and issues, but I tend to think Travis Bickle captures all of these emotions and issues better than any of those other films.
I also see Bickle in a similar as an updated version of Holden Caufield. Like Caufield, Bickle is compelling because of his observations and problems that upsets him—and I think we agree with the observations and sympathize with them. The difference between the two is that Taxi Driver chronicles the unraveling of its protagonist. It’s partly a man that is pushed the brink.
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.
I really disagree with the idea that that the film doesn’t show or establish in any convincing way Bickle’s final acts. First of all, while he might be mild-mannered, we know that he is a war veteran—which already indicates the potential for mental instability and even violence. Second, he is totally isolated—he seems to have no social supports whatsoever, and he lives in area with grimey, crime-infested city—The ugly aesthetic works in support of this.
More importantly, Bickle’s one shot at getting the dream girl, fails utterly. This rejection pushes him further to the edge. I think the final straw is seeing Iris. He’s disturbed by her situation, but then comes to believe that he has to save her. Bickle is a mentally unstable war veteran with no social support whatsover. He’s frustrated by everything around him and the sense of powerless to do anything about it; the dream girl, in disgust, rejects him. That Bickle comes up with this violent plan to save Iris is not so far-fetched given these details, imo.
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.
William said something that I agree with—“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.” If I recall correctly, Bickle was passable as a decent and maybe even attractive person, but he wasn’t Cary Grant, either. In other words, he seemed to be a guy who rose to the occasion, but normally wouldn’t behave in that way.
“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.”
Yeah, there’s definitely a sense that he’s teetering, which is beautifully captured visually in that scene in the movie where’s he watching the TV and starts rocking it back and forth with his foot, so that it’s going a little further to and fro with each swing, then it finally gets to the tipping point and falls over and breaks.
I feel like Bickle reacts the same way the audience reacts to Iris’s situation. Here’s a 12 year old being sold for sex. We’re just as outraged, just we have behavioral filters in place that makes us grudgingly tolerate it. Bickle lacks those behavioral filters, and invests nothing in the social compact.
I also find significance in the fact that he was originally planning to kill the politician. When the politician rides in his cab he says “Take all this horrible crap and flush it all down the toilet”, and gets mostly lip service in return. He wants to target the politician for having the power to do something and only paying it lip service, then decides to go after the pimp instead, deciding, from his point of view, to take his own advice and just ‘see the evil and get rid of it’.
Bickle experiences the same emotions we do observing the situation, he simply can’t temper his response according to social expectations.
Jirin nails it!
Travis is hardly an amoral character…in fact, his morals (however extreme) are what lead him to “save” Iris.
Does he target Palantine specifically because he’s a politician or is it because he’s a sort of “father figure” whose control over Betsy (via the campaign), similar to how he comes to see as analogous to Sport’s control over Iris? It’s left sort of ambiguous.
The way the film is structured implies that Travis is as upset by seeing Iris dance with Sport as he’s standing in the street staring at her window as anything else.
Travis sees Iris dance with Sport?
I probably should have said “sees” (in quotation marks), since it’s not literally clear, however, the scene is absolutely connected to Travis’s POV. The sequence of shots goes from Travis and Iris at the the diner, to shot that tilts down to Travis eyes as he sits in his cab, then down to chest level as he reaches inside of his jacket (presumably feeling around for one of the pistols), then you get a reverse shot that matches on Travis’s eyeline, which tilts up the building where Iris’s room is. Then you get a cut to the “seduction” (for lack of a better word) scene between Sport and Iris, then you cut to Travis at a firing range, shot so he’s firing directly at the camera. Then he’s making preparations for the failed attempt to assassinate Palatine.
The scene is the pivot point from “bad ideas” to “bad action.”
“Travis is hardly an amoral character…in fact, his morals (however extreme) are what lead him to “save” Iris.”
Yeah, but his sense of morality is psychotic—while you can argue that “saving” Iris is his primary purpose in killing sports and the others, remember that this was really a fallback plan from his original impulse, which is to kill Palantine . . . a much more difficult intention to justify on moral grounds.
Thanks, Matt. I’ll have to check that out, I don’t remember it as being as connected to Travis’ POV as that. It always felt like Betsy’s scenes with Tom, out of Travis’ POV.
If you have the DVD, that sequence is right around the 1:30 mark in the film, Roscoe.
I watched the scene in question, and yeah, Travis couldn’t possibly be seeing the moment between Iris and Sport, and even Scorsese, on the commentary track, says that the scene is one of the few scenes that Travis isn’t involved in and doesn’t see. He describes the use of the shots leading in to the scene, saying they were taken from elsewhere in the film, as helping to keep Travis somehow involved in the scene. He even admits that the use of those extra shots might not have been the best way to go about it, and I can see what he means, as Travis’ hair changes length rather drastically between the diner scene with Iris and the shot before the pan up the building.
Right, he couldn’t literally see it the way the scene is shot , but the scene is framed between Travis’s eyeline in the shot that precedes it and his eyeline in the one that follows it.
very interesting scene you two are discussing, just rewatched it myself.
in other news, i can’t believe this thread is still going.
It’s a clumsy insert with an error in continuity. There’s no way Travis can be seeing them dancing.
Nonetheless, Taxi Driver is one of the great American movies of the 1970s.
Right, as I said, literally speaking, the most he could get would be a glimpse through the window, so it’s a montage linkage. As someone said, the scene sort of rhymes with the earlier short scene of Betsy and Tom in the campaign office, but the way that sequence of scenes in constructed also gives it a sort of rhyme with the earlier scene in which Travis and his passenger (Scorsese) watch the passenger’s wife and ponder the potential effect of a .44 magnum—violent urges fermenting in the gaze upon intimacy between other people and all.
damn, on point
But the final rhyme is a flaw and doesn’t work. Travis can see Betsy and the woman’s profile in the window in the previous two scenes.
Right, it’s a rhyme, not an exact repetition.
The point is it fails, it’s a flaw, There’s intention. and then there’s final result.
You think it fails. OK.
You’re justifying a shot that also contains a continuity error, Travis’s hair.
Do you seriously go through a film concerned about hair-styling continuity?
(there are lots of “errors” in continuity in Scorsese’s films because he tends to make editing decision based on feel rather that on look)