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The Personality of the “Taxi Driver” by Martin Scorsese Essay

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Updated: Dec 26th, 2021

One of the greatest director-actor partnerships of the history of cinema, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, has provided many gems for the audiences, but according to me, Taxi Driver is the crown jewel for the partnership. With an immensely personal script from Paul Schrader, this partnership gave birth to Travis Bickel, a loner, who found his place in popular culture in no time. The analysis of the movie would indicate the transition of Travis Bickel from a person with no aim to finding purpose in the urban livelihood.

The setting of the movie helps this approach of change. The setting for the movie is New York. Travis Bickel, a nighttime taxi driver, and a former marine is the main character in the film. He has chronic insomnia and so he decides to drive a taxi. Most of the story is set in the dirty streets of New York where Travis plies in the night and silently watches what is happening around him. The cleaning of streets by the corporation workers and the upcoming elections eventually juxtaposed in Bickel’s mind and after his romantic odyssey failed with the blonde angle of his dreams, Betsy; Travis decides to become somebody from a ‘nobody’. The sleaze and decadence of the “city that never sleeps” (Steiner, p. 123) urges Travis to unleash his violent side. This is done by plotting an assassination attempt on the potential Senator Palantine. Later, he saves a young prostitute from the clutches of the greedy pimps in the way. And most of the actions of Travis arise because of his loneliness in the city. So, the city of New York assumes a big part in the movie. As the yellow cab of Travis cruise through the underbelly of New York, which once Woody Allen said gave him nightmares, along with the hints of the beginning of the imminent globalization that was coming and alienating the people, together with set the tone of the movie with a brooding soundtrack of Bernard Herrmans (Steiner, p. 122).

In the movie, we see a Vietnam War veteran, Travis Bickel, who lives alone in New York City, and to cure his chronic insomnia, he drives a cab in the night. His only pastime is watching pornographic movies in theaters and thinking about the regular changing conditions of New York City. He lives far from his parents and also does not tell them what he is doing for a living as he tells them that he is doing a secret Government job. He has his own opinions about good and bad. He is obsessed with a girl called Betsy, who refuses to entertain Travis due to his inappropriate behavior. After being turned down by Betsy, feeling powerless, Travis decides to do something that will clean up the society and plans to assassinate the Senator. But his plan fails for some causes. At this point in time, he meets a 13-year old prostitute, Iris, who wants to get out of the trade and the pimp. The last part of the story is centered on how Travis saves the girl and becomes the local media hero.

Travis is a war veteran and he has got a big scar on his back, which is probably some sort of knife wound, or, can be derived as a bayonet wound. This is a direct reference to the Vietnam War. Issues like loneliness in a big city and the competition to reach the top, and lives in the breakneck age all seem to come to the foil of the movie and the protagonist of the movie is seen to be exceptionally calm in these situations. He is not really violent but he is mentally unstable and he, for some recognition, buys four handguns to kill the Senator. He even modifies the weapons and that is a testimony to his marine training. The workout regime of Travis suggests that once he was under a strict workout schedule, but in recent times, irregularity and vices had taken a toll on his body. Also, the taxi has a very important part in the movie. We can see the changing social structure of New York through the passengers riding in the taxi. From feuding businessmen to lovers, from Senators to office goers, the back seat of the taxi represented the society of New York and Travis literally watched them with his rearview mirror (Gower, p. 64).

The background music of the movie becomes a character of the movie as it becomes synonymous with Travis’ mood swings and actions. Many close-up shots focus on the characters’ faces to catch what are they thinking and this is probably be best seen when Travis is practicing with his handguns. The scene will always be one of the most unforgettable pieces of movie-making. The use of blood in the over-the-top climactic action scene was criticized heavily initially but now it has become one of the cult climax sequences.

With a knockout cast comprised of then 13-year-old Jodie Foster and the ever-reliable Harvey Keitel, Taxi Driver is a movie that readily finds its place in most of the all-time great movie lists made by critics and cinema lovers alike. The blend of Schrader’s script, the direction of Scorsese, and riveting performances together make the movie an immortal classic. With brilliant direction from Scorsese and a top of the game de Niro, not to forget the immensely strong supporting cast, and a brilliant musical score Taxi Driver will always remain as one of the all-time greatest celluloid dreams ever made that shows the transition of a loner to a person with a meaning in life.

Works Cited

  1. Gower, Ken. Martin Scorsese: Art of Movie Making. Auckland: CineBuff, 1992.
  2. Steiner, Leo. 100 Greatest Movies from Hollywood. Auckland: IPCL Press, 1989.
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IvyPanda. "The Personality of the “Taxi Driver” by Martin Scorsese." December 26, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-personality-of-the-taxi-driver-by-martin-scorsese/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Personality of the “Taxi Driver” by Martin Scorsese." December 26, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-personality-of-the-taxi-driver-by-martin-scorsese/.

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