Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece hit theaters on February 8, 1976. So, as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of “Taxi Driver,” let’s take a look back to see why the film withstands the test of time.
The film chooses to focus on character rather than plot. The titular character, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), is a Vietnam vet who uses loneliness as a defense mechanism. Scorsese exclusively tells the story through Bickle’s point of view. By doing so Travis becomes more removed from the rest of the characters. We are seeing things as he sees them, not as they truly are.
When we meet Bickle he is far from an ideal hero but he’s nowhere near where he will end up. He comments on how he disapproves of the state of New York City. He wishes someone else will clean it up. Key words: someone else. Travis doesn’t consider taking action himself until he is dumped by Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and converses with a violent passenger (Scorsese).
What follows is Bickle’s decent into frustration and violence. The audience watches on as Travis purchases weapons and plots the assassination of a political candidate. His disdain for the world around him grows by his own doing. Bickle chooses to focus on the darkness around him. He drives his cab in the worst neighborhoods and focuses on the arguments of strangers. In a scene early in the film, Travis’ attention is set on two taxi drivers arguing instead of the man interviewing him. This focus on the darkness grows more apparent once Travis’ transformation is set in motion.
Travis, however, views himself as the hero. His care for a child prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), inspires him to save her. In a climactic shootout Travis kills pimps and gangsters while saving a defenseless child. The media and Iris’ father credit him as a hero. Had Travis been successful in his assassination attempt, just days earlier, he would have been a criminal.
Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader put the audience in the mind of Travis. We follow alongside him as he is suffocated by New York City’s darkness and plea that he will instead focus on the light. There is something very relatable about Bickle. The themes loneliness and alienation are just as prominent today as they were 45 years ago. Director Todd Philips was very open about the influence “Taxi Driver” had on the Academy Award nominated “Joker.”
“Taxi Driver” is a required viewing for anyone interested in character studies. You can stream the film today on Netflix.