From the very first shot of a taxi emerging from a smoke and the ominous sound of Bernard Herrmann background score blazing with it, you know this movie is special.
Taxi Driver is a great movie and the fact that even after 40 years someone is writing about it is a testament of its greatness. There are many things which makes this movie a timeless classic; Paul Schrader’s amazing script, Martin Scorsese’s masterful direction, Bernard Herrmann’s haunting musical score and even the city of New York but one factor which stands out even after 40 years since its release, is the character of Travis Bickle.
It’s extremely difficult to characterise Travis Bickle because he’s neither a hero nor a villain. He’s a regular guy, driving taxi at night through the streets of New York. And also he’s also lonely. Very lonely.
“Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man”
I guess that’s what makes Travis and this movie so compelling that anyone who has ever experienced loneliness in their life can somehow relate to it. We know how bad it is when sometimes there’s no one to talk to, everyone feels like a stranger and days feels so monotonous like they’re never going to end. We can relate to what Travis is going through because everyone has felt that at some point in their life.
“The days go on and on… they don’t end. All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.”
What really impresses me about Taxi Driver is its outstanding background score. There’s a story about how the great Bernard Herrmann didn’t want to compose a score for a “car” movie but Martin Scorsese convinced him to do so and he ended up composing a score which would go down as one of the greatest background scores of all time.
“Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.”
The background score is reflective of Travis’ state of mind. In the first part of the movie, one could hear sweet saxophonic sound whenever he meets Betsy but in the second half when he becomes more dark and violent, the music changes too. One could hear the anger and frustration of Travis in the amazing musical score which just shows the greatness of Bernard Herrmann, who tragically passed away before the release of the movie.
Taxi Driver is also about Travis’ violent turn and his urge to remove the scum from the society. When his plan to assassinate Palantine goes haywire, he decides to free Iris from the brothel fulfilling his desire to remove the scum from the streets. This amazing transformation of a character is one to behold and the full credit of it must go to the one and only Robert De Niro.
I once read an article called “How Taxi Driver ruined acting”and it was so true because since Taxi Driver, actors have worked all their life for a role like Travis Bickle and many have even tried to do something similar but none have succeeded. Robert De Niro’s acting in Taxi Driver is so real, raw and full of complexities. It is acting at its highest level. Robert De Niro went on to play many great roles later in his career but his portrayal of Travis remains the most significant one.
Taxi Driver did not win the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, neither did Martin Scorsese and nor Robert De Niro but still 40 years later, Taxi Driver’s legacy remains unmatched.