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Taxi Driver

A 1976 movie directed by Martin Scorsese.

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A rebel with a cause fighting in a war he can't win

  • Nov 6, 2010
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For being written in 5 days, Taxi Driver exceeds the expectations of a typical character study. Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese had in mind an adaption of Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. Instead, they produced something the closest to it and its milieu was Scorsese's ubiquitous New York. Taxi drivers have an omniscience; they travel around the entire city, familiar with the energy and behaviour it all carries. After a while, one is bound to get sick of it. Travis Bickel does.

Bickel (Robert De Niro) could be a typical antihero, but his intentions give him the will of an angel. Bickel is a rebel with a cause, who can admit that his society is in a state of decay, but he also can agree, when walking around in it, he is trying to adapt. In his taxi cab though, we see a different person: reclusive, irrational, paranoid, and ponderous. 

Scorsese's camera remains inside, looking out through the windows, as rain washes on the window – effectively blinding us from all the filth, yes, but also making it rather beautiful. Either way, the scum remains and the rainwater continues to fall. Bickel shakes his head and suggests – "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets." 

Outside of that taxi cab, Bickel does seem less irate and immutable. He wears conventional clothing, a regular haircut – heck he does have one of the most predictable vocations in New York. When he searches for a job at the Senator Charles Palantine Headquarters, his adjustment to society grants him the acquaintance of Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). Travis converses with her as if he is talking to himself:

"I think you're a lonely person. I drive by this place a lot and I see you here. I see a lot of people around you. And I see all these phones and all this stuff on your desk. It means nothing. Then when I came inside and I met you, I saw in your eyes and I saw the way you carried yourself that you're not a happy person. And I think you need something. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend."

Travis' intimacies with Betsy are spoiled when he takes her to a porno. The paradox here is Bickel really believes it is normal to go to these films on dates "all couples do it." Betsy dismisses Travis due to his atypical behaviour, and consequentially, Travis decides the edifice of customary society no longer exists. 

Travis, as most of Scorsese's characters, are spiritual characters, who want to be moral but ultimately do wrong in the process. Travis is like St. Paul, he really thought the end justified the means and that on the beginning and receiving end, benevolence was the justification. Since Travis had experienced travesty in Vietnam, he was susceptible to his own carnage, to losing control, or ironically, what he would consider being in control – annihilating crime through the harshest means possible.

New York, unlike Mean Streets, is shown as a dark, nefarious place as an external milieu (usually Scorsese presented the violence indoors – which does happen by the end). Otherwise, New York is observed like a night watchmen; the city is at its darkest hour, the scum flood the streets, the weather is hot, and the Big Apple becomes, as Scorsese called it, "a seeping kind of virus." The aura perfectly reflects Travis' state of mind: downcast, disturbed, and barely awake. Scorsese, here, brilliantly strives for the surreal effect.

Scorsese, dangerously, chose to play one of the most important brief roles in the movie (excluding Peter Boyle as Wizard). In this scene, De Niro has a one-sided conversation with a man on the brink of madness. He is talking to Travis, asking him questions, yes, but we get the sense that this character, played by Scorsese, is really talking to himself. He mumbles to Travis that he is going to kill his wife with a Magnum and that it is (this I believe is subtextual) is for the better. Scorsese plays it right here; though his role dominates the scene in dialogue, our focus remains on both – they both manifest in each other. It's a mirror-image. 

As for mirrors, who could not forget the famous, yet crucial "You talkin' to me?" trademark? We all know that sequence was improvised, but more importantly, it allows the audience some time alone with Travis. He is talking to himself, not through narration, but diegetically – almost straight at the camera. Scorsese said De Niro was playing off Brando in Reflections of a Golden Eye and you do sense a Marlon Brando character here: contemptuous and obsessed. 

Jodi Foster, who was 12 at the time, plays a street hooker named Iris. Iris was, apparently, inspired off the 1950 Coppertone Ads. I think, however, Iris strongly hallmarks Sonya from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Sonya, like Iris, was a prostitute that provided the taciturn protagonist with compassion, which fed his motives in two ways: 1) the world needed cleaning up and 2) the world CAN be cleaned up.

Harvey Keitel plays Iris's pimp, who is more of a placeholder for Travis's cynical idea of society. He's less a character and more of a smudge in the print, a real lowlife whose one dimensionality is necessary in circumventing the film's fatal flaw – a white-cliché criminal, instead of a black one, which would have made Taxi Driver notoriously racist.

Scorsese's choice here is more than wise. So when the ending arrives, the carnage yet almost nihilistic retribution is fitting. Travis has done a deed that makes you want to scream "Kill! Wait No!" Scorsese emulates violent catharsis here, and if De Niro was telling a black pimp to "Suck on this!" there would be problems.

When Bickel, we begin to wonder, is about to take his last breath, he performs his own death: he shapes his fingers like a gun and mimics, with a devilish smile, blowing his brains out. At that moment, I kept thinking of Jean-Paul Belmondo's self-death in Breathless, with a Scorsese spin. And that spin is transcended when the camera, from high above, glides across the room to a team of policemen. Emotion overpowers the literal here: we feel like Christ has descended upon our characters, essentially Travis, and courtesy of Bernard Herrmann's jazz-esque score, the climax is oddly epic.

Could we necessarily believe the final sequence in Taxi Driver? It's as if a collage of Bickel's thoughts methodically emerge onto screen and the ending is like a conveyor belt of Travis' memories. I wouldn't call the ending a dream sequence (that is essentially the whole movie) but you do start to believe that Travis' inner tumultuousness has not escaped him. In a quick shot, Scorsese shows Travis glance into the mirror, staring out again scornfully. Not at us, but the streets – distorted by the rainwater and that sort of filth. 

I will never forget my favourite shot in Taxi Driver. Travis on the telephone and that camera panning away to that lonely world out there.
A rebel with a cause fighting in a war he can't win

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January 14, 2011
One of my all-time favorite movies with one of my all-time favorite directors and my favorite actor! Great review, thanks for sharing :)
More Taxi Driver reviews
review by . August 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     Travis Bickle, the character at the center of Martin Scorsese's masterful "Taxi Driver", is often cited as one of the great villains of cinema. Perhaps he is a villain. He shoots people. They die. He plans to cause destruction and treats it as his only cause. He's a broken man, and that is why people see him as villainous. However...Travis leads a problematic existence. He can't solve his problems easy. And I believe that his problems alone make him something …
review by . December 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
  Yep, that's right, I think this is Martin Scorcese's best movie. Even better than Goodfellas, Casino, or Raging Bull (all fantastic movies, mind you).   I first came across Taxi Driver back in December of 2006 when it was on AMC, and while I only caught about the last 60% of the movie, I was captivated by the gritty cinematography and central character, Travis Bickle. It wasn't long before I requested it as a Christmas gift, and this is one Christmas gift that hasn't …
Quick Tip by . June 26, 2010
Classic. Example of how "out there" an angry, dis-illuisoned, and lonely guy could get.
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
a little dark
review by . May 08, 2009
Taxi Driver is a very controversial film from the team of Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. The movie shows the decay of the inner boroughs of Manhattan and the decline of a disturbed individual's mind.     A former Viet-Nam vet turned cab driver (Robert De Niro) is roaming the streets watching the world go to pot. The line between fantasy and reality is ever blurring because of his mental status. Slowly over time he imagines that society needs someone who will clean the streets …
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Parker Mott ()
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Martin Scorsese's intense film, a hallmark of 1970s filmmaking, graphically depicts the tragic consequences of urban alienation when a New York City taxi driver goes on a murderous rampage against the pitiable denizens inhabiting the city's underbelly. For psychotic, pistol-packing Vietnam vet Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), New York City seems like a circle of hell. Driving his cab each night through the bleak Manhattan streets, Bickle observes with fanatical loathing the sleazy lowlifes who comprise most of his fares. By day he haunts the porno theaters of 42nd Street, taking his cues from the violent vision of life portrayed in these movies. As badly as Travis wants to connect with the people around him--including Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a lovely blonde campaign worker, and Iris (Jodie Foster), a prepubescent prostitute he tries to save--his attempts are thwarted and his pent-up rage grows, turning him into a Mohawk-wearing walking time bomb. Scorcese fills Paul Schrader's screenplay with a tragic re...
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