A word of caution to the more conservative audience: Taxi Driver is set in a city where all the shady creatures and sights are all out crawling the filthy streets and it takes a lonely, insomnia stricken, socially inept young man slowly sinking into a moment of insanity to “flush it all down the fucking toilet.” You still there? Alright you brave souls, let’s go deeper.
Travis (Robert De Niro) is an unstable Vietnam veteran who drives a taxi at night because he can’t sleep. As he drives, he sees all the creatures of the night, hookers, their pimps and low-lives of all forms. Travis is one of the few drivers who will pick these people up and they’re not the best customers. During the day, when he’s not driving, he writes in his journal, sits in x-rated theaters just to have a place to go and visits Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) a young woman working for a political campaign he wants to befriend.
Being around all these sleazy types of people seems to desensitize Travis. When he takes Betsy on a date he takes her to an x-rated theater. Travis is either extremely stupid in a social sense or has become so used to x-rated things that he doesn’t even imagine Betsy objecting.
After things don’t go well with Betsy, Travis seems to become more isolated and we worry more about him. He buys guns, aims them out the window and rigs himself full of guns and knives under his old army jacket. When he shows up at a political rally, we worry that he’ll snap and shot everyone, but that’s not his cause. He finds that when he meets a young girl working as a prostitute.
Poor Iris (Jodi Foster) seems like the forgotten afterbirth of Woodstock. She has only half formed ideals of feminism and being hip and thinks she knows what she’s doing, but she’s just a twelve year old prostitute. When she has breakfast with Travis, we see she’s still just a kid, maybe a little brainwashed but not completely hopeless. Anyone with a sense of decency would want to help her out of that situation, but few have what it takes to go through with it. Thankfully, Travis is slipping into a mindset that is up to the task.
In all, Taxi Driver is grim, gritty, filthy, thought provoking, beautiful and amazing. Too much? Sadly, I believe it’s those first few adjectives that turned the Academy away from giving Taxi Driver the honor of best picture. The characters of Rocky and Travis are very similar (lonely, socially awkward and looking for purpose), but one becomes an inspiration and the other a ruthless vigilante. The decision might have come down to whom do we want our society to see more?
For me, Rocky is for kids and Taxi Driver is for adults. The film making is better, shots more beautiful, the story is more thoughtful and De Niro is an amazing leading man who carries the weight of the whole film.
“Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.”