Have you ever been disturbed after watching a film and still loved it. Yes it has happened with me so many times before when I watched Pinjara, Prahaar, Pyaasa, Devdas, and Schindler’s List. But none of them matches the goriness and grittiness of psychological thriller, Taxi Driver, a Martin Scorsese film. This 1976 modern classic mocks the concepts of heroism in a very cruel manner.
Protagonist of the film is a Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), who defies all conventional characters of a hero and presents us a perfect example of Antihero. He is suffering from a psychological disorder (seems to be Post traumatic Stress Disorder, common among Vietnam Vets). Insomniac Travis becomes a cab driver so as to mingle into the society and wants to keep busy himself. He lives in the city, spends time with other fellow cabbies & travels entire stretch of city but still he is a loner. He cannot connect with anybody at all at emotional level; not even with, Wizard, the smartest and most experienced person in the herd. He fails miserably in acclimatization and feels lonely more than ever. Although Travis is living in a city, continuously surrounded by humans, still he is very lonely. This termed as Urban Alienation is central theme of Taxi Driver.
Nights spent as a cabbie brings Travis closer to violence, filth and darkness of society. Glaring through the windshields of taxi he notes that– “All animals come out at night; whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” He is obsessed by this thought and it is continuously reflected through his cold, emotionless and scary voice-over. He wants someone to connect, with whom he can share his thoughts, agony, anger and life. First of all he gets attracted towards Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who oversees proceedings of a political campaign for presidential candidate Palantine (Leonard Harris). He describes her as an angel who can give a sense of direction to his life. He grooms himself well to impress and spend some time with her. Now spectator thinks that he will be rehabilitated into regular life of mainstream society. But all goes wrong after a movie date fiasco. Instantly pops up in our mind – ‘who the hell will take his date to a Swedish porno movie!’ Travis tries to apologise her but still he cannot figure out the reason behind her displeasure. From this you can figure out at what extent he is secluded from society and its mannerisms. Betsy breaks up with Travis and this adds to anger of his. He concludes that she is also similar to others.
Second female in his life is Iris (Jodie Foster), a child prostitute. He wants to save Iris from Sport (Harvey Keitel), her pimp and this ridiculous, filthy and rotten sect of life. He wants to be a saviour, a hero. He wants to experience that glory. Travis represents frustrated working class, which wants to rebel against lowlife criminals and rich established people. He feels that both are accomplishing their own goals by using physical power (criminals), charisma and authoritative status in society (rich established class). In Travis’s opinion lowlife criminal is Sport, the pimp, who physically abuses Iris; while rich established person is Palantine, politician, who is having charisma, social status and personality influencing Betsy. He wants revenge against this corrupt society in the guise of heroism & through violent action. He finds that destruction is the ultimate answer to this illness and he should go on a mission to reorganise a new pure world.
Mohawk hair-styled Travis hatches a plan to take revenge and clean filth from city. But his homicidal attack on Palantine fails. Then frustrated and angry Travis moves to next target Sport. Here he accomplishes gory mission. Bloodbath is explicitly picturised. About end there is a controversial thought that end is a dreaming sequence of Travis or eventually he is killed and these moments before death. But it is quite clear that whatever end we see is real. He survives the attack and still in that psychotic stage (Observe the final glare). Director and script writer wanted to highlight the fact that media can glorify a monster and make him a hero. Though this glorification seems very odd but it can happen in real life also, you never know!
Paul Schrader has penned down a brilliant screenplay centred at urban alienation. Martin Scorsese’s fearless attitude and innovative vision can be experienced in film. He has experimented a lot with camera angles, colour schemes and slow motions effectively. Specially the overhead camera shot following the blood trail is wickedly amazing. Robert De Niro has portrayed perfectly transformation of a lonely taxi driver to obsessive psychopath who appears like a volcano of anger ready to explode at any time. Music composer – Bernard Herrmann delivered an apt Jazzy blue score which creates scary environment whenever needed in the film and makes cinematic experience more enjoyable. Theme music played on Saxophone is awesome. Sadly it was the last soundtrack of his life.
A quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems to be perfect answer to antihero who wants to solve problems by violence.
THE ULTIMATE WEAKNESS OF VIOLENCE IS THAT IT IS A DESCENDING SPIRAL, BEGETTING THE VERY THING IT SEEKS TO DESTROY. INSTEAD OF DIMINISHING EVIL,IT MULTIPLIES IT.