Taxi Driver

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Martin Scorsese is wide­ly con­sid­ered the most influ­en­tial American film­mak­er of the last thir­ty years, and this is due in large part to his abil­i­ty to cap­ture the hec­tic ener­gy of the city in which he grew up. In many ways, Taxi Driver (1976) is his most effec­tive movie: an unre­lent­ing por­trait of angst, nihilism, and the debil­i­tat­ing effects of urban life on the psyche.

I got some bad ideas in my head.” — Travis Bickle

Accompanied by Bernard Hermann’s haunt­ing musi­cal score, the title char­ac­ter sails through the rain-drenched streets of 1970s New York. Scorsese cap­tures the soul-scar­ring repet­i­tive­ness of his heed­less jour­ney, with no sense of depar­ture or arrival. The filthy city is framed by the dirver’s rain-speck­led taxi cab: its wind­shield, win­dows, bon­net, bumper, and mir­rors, as the mul­ti­col­ored New York lights bounce off it in a dizzy­ing, nau­se­at­ing kaleidoscope.

The result is a very sub­jec­tive look at what is prob­a­bly the most pho­tographed city in the world, trans­formed into a liv­ing organ­ism that is both alien­at­ing and alien. These sequences of the taxi mov­ing through the city appear as though they were pulled out of a sci­ence fic­tion movie set on a strange and hos­tile world with no sense of home­li­ness, iden­ti­ty, or belonging.

I think some­one should just take this city and just… just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet.”

The film is equal­ly pow­er­ful at show­ing the inter­nal world of the taxi dri­ver him­self, played by Robert DeNiro. In a fan­tas­tic scene close to the start of the movie, we’re giv­en a glimpse into his agi­tat­ed mind. During a con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low dri­ver, Travis drops a tablet of effer­ves­cent med­i­cine into his glass of water. The sound of the con­ver­sa­tion fades as the fizzing ris­es. The shot moves clos­er on Travis’s face and tighter on the drink, until the sound over­whelms every­thing else and the bub­bles fill the screen — a per­fect metaphor of the rage boil­ing just behind his qui­et, unas­sum­ing exterior.

There’s no escape. I’m God’s lone­ly man.”

My favorite scene of the movie gives us an even more dis­turb­ing view of Travis’s inner mind as he is reject­ed by the girl he likes. He calls her on the phone and asks for a date, and the excru­ci­at­ing look of rejec­tion on Travis’s face is so unbear­able to watch that even the cam­era itself pans away to reveal an emp­ty cor­ri­dor as the con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues off­screen. The cam­era holds on the image of the cor­ri­dor into which Travis walks, a for­lorn, love­less fig­ure in a vacant space.

Directed by Martin ScorseseStarring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd and Harvey Keitel

This sto­ry is from Meedo’s upcom­ing book mon­tage­space: Cinema and the Making, Un-Making and Re-Making of Architecture. Please feel free to con­tact us for more details and read relat­ed sto­ries here.

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