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Double exposures featuring shots of neon-lit, nighttime New York City. Bernard Herrmann’s haunting sax score. “Are you talking to me?” Now I remember why the American Film Institute included Taxi Driver on their list of the best 100 American movies of all time. There is a lot to love about this movie. Arguably, this is Scorsese’s best. Re-watching this movie gave me a chance to see some of the qualities I assumed about the film over the years before and after I first saw Taxi Driver.

Travis Bickle, the main character of the movie whose name is now synonymous with “psychotic,” is not quite the loony he is unfairly made out to be. Travis brings Betsy, who Travis saw as a bright spot in a crowd of “scum”, on a date to the theater… the porno theater. But he doesn’t know any better. He has seen couples do so before, and he does not think bringing her to see an adult film is an implication that they should have sex. Travis is sorry and tries to make up, but even the camera cannot watch how sad the situation is when he is continually denied another date. This brings him to the campaign headquarters where Betsy volunteers, and, trying to get answers about why she will not answer his phone calls, he makes a fool of himself in front of everybody.

This leads to one of the main themes of the movie: Travis tries to do the right thing, but he is seen as a villain by all. There is no argument that Travis has issues. He has dreams of grandeur and writes them to his parents as if they were a reality. (Though, just because somebody has issues does not make him/her an evil, maniacal villain.) Travis is not fully to blame for how he acts. He is a product of his environment, the streets of New York, which he always talks about with great disgust: he frequently wishes that a hard rain could wash all “the scum” away. He also intends to save a 12-year-old prostitute, not just because she is a young girl who is being taken advantage of, but also because he sees himself in her. She too is drifting and only trying to survive in this cruel, vicious world. Throughout the film, people form a gun with their thumb and index finger and pretend to shoot Travis (as if he‘s the bad guy). During the bloody climax, Travis makes his point when he forms a gun with his thumb and index finger and pretends to shoot himself in the temple — twice: He killed the pimp and all “the scum” involved in the prostitution ring, yet a cop is holding Travis at gunpoint? Travis is the bad guy? This is Travis’ thought process, and, based on his intentions, I don’t blame him.

On a darker note, whereas TV pundits frequently blame unrelated artworks like the songs of Marilyn Manson, episodes of South Park, and the films of Chan-wook Park for inspiring school-shooting massacres, Taxi Driver creepily reminded me specifically of the recent Virginia Tech tragedy. (Not to imply that this movie is an inspiration to those who want to commit mass murder on a school campus: there are just similarities between the film and the recent event.) As Travis gears up and prepares to assassinate a senator who is running for president, I saw Seung-Hui Cho’s face, the visage of the gunman behind the Virginia Tech shooting, in his confessional video. Ditto when De Niro talks in the mirror while whipping his gun from his jacket sleeve. The audience watches De Niro’s face, seeing something very dangerous brewing. The character of Travis knows he cannot trust politicians, the justice system, or God/some other deity to do something about the state of the city and believes he must take matters into his own hands.

I haven’t seen Taxi Driver in about six or seven years. Seeing it again with a fresh pair of eyes at 19 changed my view of the film dramatically. The movie touches upon moments in my life in which I felt great loneliness. However, the movie was clear about how I went down one road, and Travis took a completely different route. Philip Seymour Hoffman immortally spoke in Capote, “It’s as if [we] grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.” How close we all come to becoming Travis at one point or another in our lives.


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