Taxi Driver

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It’s always a bit worrying when someone tells you that they deeply identify with Travis Bickle. What, so you enjoy taking women to porno films, have a gun fetish and enjoy befriending 12-year-old prostitutes? If you say so, mate.

But seriously, although it’s a bit disturbing when people tell you they agree wholeheartedly with Travis Bickle’s outlook on life (“someday a real rain will come”), I’m sure most people can relate to him to a certain extent. The loneliness is certainly something that most people have felt at some time. And really, even though you’re surrounded by millions of people, large cities can be the loneliest places on the planet. Everywhere you go you see people making connections while you can only peer at them from the outside.

This is certainly the case for Travis. He’s a perpetual outsider. He just doesn’t fit in anywhere. Just take the scenes with his fellow cabbies. Here are his work colleagues, people who go through the same shit as him, and yet he has nothing to say to them. They can’t understand him and vice versa. But despite this he does try and reach out. He tries to tell one of his colleagues the crazy thoughts that are going through his head. But just as you feel he’s going to reveal himself, he has to swallow some of the stupidest advice that’s ever been put forward. A chance to make a connection has been lost. And yet, even though this cabbie spouts random nonsense, one thing he says has a ring of truth. He tells Travis he should get laid.

And that’s what Travis really needs. He desperately needs a shag. He needs a proper release. But while Travis does try and meet someone, he goes about it in the wrong way. In one excruciating scene he tries to pick up a woman at a porno theatre. Yeah, that’s going to work. A woman who’s working in a porno theatre is really going to want to date one of the wankers she has to serve.

And then of course there’s the scene where he takes Betsy to see a movie. Fair play to Travis, though, he does ask this attractive woman out on a date and does a decent enough job of holding a conversation with her (although he’s rather intense and insults one of her work colleagues), but just when things may be going right, when he may have a chance to ease his crippling loneliness, he decides to take her to see something from his favourite genre – porn. Even though Travis is desperately trying to reach out to outside world he’s continually reinforcing his loneliness. And when Betsy’s response to this charming outing is overwhelmingly negative, and when she no longer wants to speak to him, he blames the world for his sorry situation. He’s completely unable to look within himself. The problem, apparently, is with everyone else, not him.

So in light of this failed attempt to get laid, Travis reverts to a form of masturbation. I mean, all the guns he buys and all the macho posturing before the mirror is pure onanism. He’s striking out against his impotence and the world that mocks him for it. And all the time when he sees sex or couples in love on TV he points his gun at them. He wants to destroy these people who have the audacity to pursue some sort of happiness.

And when you think about it, Travis’ whole idiotic attempt to kill Senator Palantine is the action of a jilted lover. Here’s a man that Betsy adores so therefore Travis is going to blow his brains out. But of course Travis can’t even do this. Again he’s impotent.

So with this act of vengeance a failure, the next best thing for Travis is to ‘rescue’ Iris, the 12-year-old prostitute played by Jodie Foster. I guess it’s a strange kind of delusion that affects the lonely man, but they often seem to think that they’re on some sort of righteous mission; that their pain and suffering is there to serve a greater good and that they’ll be worshipped when they’re finally understood.

And so finally Travis gets to strike out against this diseased society. He finally gets a chance to get his gun off. And he does it in the most vile, sickening way – blowing fingers off and blowing people’s brains out. This is the girl’s knight in shining armour. This is her hero – a man sporting a Mohawk and dripping with blood.

And so this begs the question as to whether the epilogue is some sort of pre-death fantasy on the part of Travis or whether it’s a satirical swipe at the way we sometimes make heroes out of monsters. I mean, we get to hear a letter from Iris’ parents where Travis is lauded as a hero. We get to see Travis with his work colleagues – now he’s one of the gang. And then finally we get to see Betsy. You get the feeling that maybe she wants to apologise to Travis and give their fledgling relationship another try. But instead Travis drives off. Surely this is precisely what Travis would want to happen. He’d want to become the righteous hero, he’d want to gain acceptance from those around him and he’d want a chance to stick it to that filthy whore who didn’t understand him. Surely in reality his bloodbath would be quickly forgotten. And surely, if he survived, he’d end up in jail.

But that ambiguity is one of the many things that makes Taxi Driver such an outstanding film. You’re presented with one of the most unflinching depictions of loneliness and how you respond to it is up to you. Hero or villain, saint or sinner – the choice is yours.

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