RTF 314 - Taxi Driver
October 1st, 1998 | Back to Blog Listing
Kevin Ludlow
RTF 314
Charles Ramirez Berg / Allan Campbell
October 2, 1998

The movie, Taxi Driver, depicts many forms of violence, language, and strong sexual emotions especially those of a mere child. However according Andrew Sarris, the main problem with the movie is not the general controversial topics but rather the way in which the plot has no general structure to it when compared to the character, Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro). Sarris contests the fact that there is not much information given about the character at all. Early in the movie we are told by DeNiro that he is a veteran looking for a job which happens to be for a taxi company in New York. We are told nothing else about his past until later in the movie when we find out that he in fact has parents who are alive. Again, after learning this we still know nothing about his family except that he writes them at least one letter filled with farfetched lies. Being a frequent cab rider, Sarris also argues the ways in which taxi passengers are represented. He makes only a few references, but in the movie there are frequent occurrences and discussions about sex and shootings in the cab. I think that after riding in cabs for long enough, even in New York, it is pretty unusual for one cab driver to repetitively have people having sex in his car much less getting shot or stabbed.

After seeing this movie a few times recently and a few more over the years, it is very easy for me to agree with Sarris’s opinion of a strange plot structure, especially when compared to classical Hollywood cinema style. I have heard the idea before that the entire middle of the movie is to be interpreted as a dream, but I personally find that hard to believe. I find it much easier to handle the idea that Martin Scorsese wanted to depict a taxi driver pulling a complete 360 on his life and essentially fulfill a fantasy of being a recognized city hero, only to put his life back together once again. It seems to me that the general turning point for DeNiro in the movie is when he sees the way that Iris, actress Jodie Foster, is treated as a teenage prostitute. He eventually confronts her and says that he simply wants to help her get her life back together. The way that DeNiro’s character changes at this point seems to leave a great deal of confusion in the viewer’s mind. After buying a small collection of guns to play with, completely changing his look, and even going as far as inventing an automatic gun dispenser, Travis seems to have lost it completely.

At this particular point in the movie, the classical Hollywood cinema style seems to be completely lost from the movie. There is no way of knowing exactly what is going on in the movie even after viewing it many times. However, this lack of understanding does not come from an overwhelming amount of suspense but instead pure confusion. At one point Travis seems intent upon assassinating the office candidate, but shortly afterwards he leaves the entire idea behind him. Perhaps it is because he almost gets caught but it simply destroys any idea the viewer might have for Travis’s intentions. It almost seems as if he is trying to fight for causes that he will not stick with. From the point that DeNiro changes in character, it is impossible to figure out what he is trying to accomplish in the rest of the movie, or if he is trying to accomplish anything at all. He does not have any specific goals that need to be achieved. The most obvious defiance of the classical Hollywood cinema style is the use of characters especially at this point in the movie. Everyone in the movie seems to be playing the role of an antagonist towards DeNiro except for Jodie Foster who comes across in her brief few scenes as a mere victim of society. Even early in the movie Cybill Shepherd’s character seems to turn completely against DeNiro simply as a result of a tasteless date.

When Andrew Sarris set out to write his review back in February of 1976, I do not think that he had the classical Hollywood cinema ideas in his mind. However everything that he discusses in his article is in opposition to the classical Hollywood cinema model. In his first paragraph about Taxi Driver, Sarris proposes several ideas to the reader about who Travis Bickle is supposed to represent. This clearly goes against the idea of the character having a general set of traits throughout the movie. Throughout his article Sarris explains how the movie has somewhat of an irregular flow to it which I agree with completely. This irregularity adds to the lack of conformity to the classical Hollywood cinema model. I do not feel that comparing the film to classical Hollywood helps or hurts the authors viewpoints within his article simply because he expresses very general statements about the movie. I think that it is safe to say that if a “classical Hollywood cinema” style never existed in critics eyes that the same would still be said of the movie, just because of its incredible lack of conformity to reality. I suppose that somewhere in America, perhaps even Manhattan there is a man who is similar to Travis Bickle. On the same note, it would be very hard to understand that person’s ideas in everyday life, much less cinematically.

Taxi Driver was released by Columbia Pictures so I am not sure if it is specifically considered a Hollywood release or not. Taking an in depth look at the pictures content, I would have to say that it was in fact targeted for a specific movie audience, but it is hard to say which one. It is obviously not a romantic story in any way nor do I think it could be considered an action movie. I try not to categorize a movie when I watch it because I think that every film writer or artist for that matter has some meaning that he wants to get across to his viewers. It just seems that in this movie it is very hard to tell exactly what meaning the author wants us to get. I would personally have to categorize Taxi Driver as a dramatic psychopathic film about a very dynamic character that wants to change the way in which people live. Anyone with an open mind would probably love this movie as do I, but more close minded people or even people that could not imagine such a lifestyle may not like Taxi Driver. Again, I do not feel that this film follows many if any at all of the ideas of the classical Hollywood cinema. It surprises me that this movie can be so obscure and yet relatively so popular. I for one am very pleased to know that this movie did so well for itself despite its obvious lack of general cinematic form.