Taxi Driver is about Travis Bickle, perhaps the most famous anti-hero in cinema. He has bad insomnia, so he takes a job as a taxi driver at night, spending the rest of his time in porn theaters. He is a Vietnam vet, scarred mentally and physically, from the war, and he is angry. He tries to make romantic advances towards Betsey, a woman that he notices and basically stalks back to her workplace. She gives him a chance, but he blows it when he decides on their second date to take her to a porno. He becomes more angry, disgusted by the crime he witnesses around him. He illegally buys some guns, and he "turns his life around", working out until his veins bulge, famously confronting his own reflection and challenging it, "You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here." He had become mildly obsessed with a 12 year old prostitue that he saw one night as she attempted to get into his cab only to be dragged away by her pimp. He attempts to convince her to leave her lifestyle and go back to her parents, but she refuses. After becoming increasingly violent, the film ends in a bloodbath as Travis murders the girl's pimp, bouncer, and customer. Travis turns the gun on himself, but it is out of bullets. The end of the film shows newspaper clippings that proclaim that he is a hero. Betsey gets into his cab with him, and she is no longer repulsed by him.
Ebert, in his essay, theorizes that Travis is not being redeemed at the end. He writes, "There has been much discussion about the ending, in which we see newspaper clippings about Travis' "heroism," and then Betsy gets into his cab and seems to give him admiration instead of her earlier disgust. Is this a fantasy scene? Did Travis survive the shoot-out? Are we experiencing his dying thoughts? Can the sequence be accepted as literally true?" (The Great Movies, 455). I never really thought of it this way. For me, I always doubted that Travis was capable of change. In those last moments, I always get this sense that although he may have been a hero this time, he is too violent and unstable - if he continued to "stop crime" he wold eventually take it too far. But I never imagined this scene as a fantasy, and it was really interesting to watch the end of the film with that in mind. I don't really know how I feel about what Ebert says, but it's really interesting to think about. Reading is essay really made me focus on some of the weirder parts of the ending, and think about them again more carefully.
I really love this movie. I always feel like I find myself more disturbed by Travis' insanity that most people I know, but that's just me. I just have always found him to be very...unhinged. But I like that - not that I like Travis as a character, but I like how conflicted the movie makes me feel. It's complicated. I don't really support his actions, and the issue of how society can glamorize "just" violence is so interesting and present in this film. It's a movie that I always find dear to my heart, even though it might leave us with questions and uneasy feelings. I love that about it, though. Scorsese is really talented, and I'm always so excited to see what projects he'll take on next. If you haven't seen this film, you have to, it's amazing. If you've seen it before, read Ebert's essay and watch it again, especially if you have seen The Searchers. Let me know if you check it out!
Have any thoughts on Taxi Driver? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Taxi Driver