1 Woman, 100 Movies - #95: Taxi Driver
I’m continuing my cinematic mission to watch the 100 greatest movies of all time. You can read more about my idea here. #95 – Taxi Driver Year released: 1976 Genre: Crime, Drama IMDb rating: 8.3 Summary: A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute. Previously seen?: No
Yikes, what an IMDB summary. I'm assuming I won't feel warm and fuzzy when the credits roll on this one. I love Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies of all time), but for some reason have never seen this movie. All I really know about this film is that it birthed the iconic line "Are YOU talking to ME?" I have no idea what context these words are uttered, but I know that De Niro is an angry fella when he's asking the question. Also, Yay for a movie that isn't from the '50s or '60s. I'm excited!
Summary & Final Thoughts
Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a taxi driver that enjoys working nights because he has trouble sleeping. He spends all his free time stewing in his filthy apartment and watching XXX movies at his local adult theater.
Travis soon becomes obsessed with Betsy, a pretty campaign volunteer for a presidential candidate. After stalking her at work for who knows how long, Travis confidently strolls into her office, and asks to speak to her alone. I was sure that his heavy creepy vibes would send her running, but to my shock and surprise, she was into it! Travis asks her out for coffee on her break, she agrees and smiles to herself in anticipation. I was talking to my iPad in horror. Betsy, you in danger girl.
I was sure Travis was going to fumble the bag on their coffee date, but he was talking about connections and vibes and how he understands her already and he's been watching her (!!) and again, Betsy - who should be concerned - is intrigued. He insists that her coworker and her don't have a strong connection, and instead of balking at that ("how would YOU know? I just met you an hour ago!") she agrees. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't" she confirms after he asks if she agrees. They make plans for later and I pray that he doesn't convince her to bring him back to her place.
Thankfully, it doesn't get that far. Travis takes Betsy to his porno theater for their first date. This red flag is finally waving high enough for Betsy to see and she books it out of there. Activate crazy jealous ex mode.
The next day, Travis find Betsy at work and screams at her in front of her entire office, and sadly, it's a familiar scene. A lot of women - myself included - have dealt with sexist, delusional, obsessive men who think that any woman who is not interested in them is completely crazy and selfish. And that's Travis right now. Except he's telling her that her lack of interest in him means she's going to hell. Make that make sense.
Of course, the audience knows that it was only a matter of time before this happened. And now, I find myself more on edge for what will happen next.
Travis reaches out to one of his fellow taxi drivers and confides that he's been having violent thoughts. Instead of listening and helping, his friend assures him that he'll be fine and encourages Travis to "go get drunk." Obviously terrible advice. 1/10, would not recommend.
On one of his routes, a child trafficking victim (Jodie Foster) hops in his cab trying to escape a pimp. The pimp catches her and pays Travis 20 bucks to keep his mouth shut. He takes the money, but that doesn't stop him from becoming obsessed.
Listen - this plot line was hard for me to watch. When Jodie Foster popped on the screen in this role, I immediately paused the movie to look up how old she was during filming (12; the same age as her character). Jodie is great in the part, but it's such a disturbing plot line, it was almost distracting.
Travis thinks it's disturbing too and he wants to help Iris (Foster) escape to a better life. He gives her money to help her catch a bus, but Iris doesn't seem convinced. Either way, Travis can't spend all his time helping Iris - he's a busy man! He has things to do and people to attempt to assassinate! Cut to him buying a bunch of guns, brandishing them in the mirror and delivering his classic "You talking to me?" line. All that's left on his to-do list is cutting his hair into a mow-hawk (subtly is apparently not his thing) and heading to the rally where Betsy and her no-connection coworker are accompanying presidential candidate what's-his-name.
It doesn't work. Travis is easily spotted by a CIA agent, even though said agent is wearing the darkest possible aviators, and Travis runs off before he can get caught. He's totally bummed that he didn't get to shoot that guy, so he makes a different plan: rescue Iris.
Does he call the police and tell them that a 12-year-old is currently being forced into sex work? Does he sneak Iris away out of her apartment under the guise of another lunch date? No, too logical. He goes to the pimp's headquarters in the middle of the night, and shoots everyone in sight, getting himself shot in the process. Iris is traumatized at the amount of blood and gore, and he's laying on the couch near-death. We did it, Joe!
The next scene is Iris' father thanking Travis for saving his daughter, while the camera floats over different newspaper articles hailing Travis as a vigilante hero. In my opinion, the father's speech patterns sound A LOT like Travis so I immediately assumed it was all a hallucination. (More on that later).
The movie ends with Betsy in Travis' cab, asking him to drive her home, and he skirts off into the night, leaving her pining for him on the side of the road. Apparently, him killing a bunch of people is all he needed to do to convince her that he's NOT crazy?
In my post-film Google research, I found a lot of theories and analyses about the ending of the movie. A lot of people thought, like myself, that the ending was just a figment of Travis' imagination and that he succumbed to his wounds on that dirty couch. There's no way that he walks off into the sunset a hero with his crush throwing herself at him in his cab. But director Martin Scorsese says that is exactly what happened. He insists that Travis didn't die and that the ending wasn't a dream sequence. Robert De Niro concurs, and wonders where Travis would be today. (Um, in JAIL?!)
Overall, this was a great movie. It's probably the only Martin Scorsese film that I haven't seen, and it was entirely captivating. Again, the Iris story line was hard to get through - especially the slow dancing scene with the pimp - but De Niro was scarily convincing as Travis. It wasn't one of those rooting for the bad guy situations that usually makes these types of movies interesting, but I was always wondering what devastating thing would happen next. I definitely recommend.
Note: I also learned that Taxi Driver inspired a real-life assassin John Hinkley, Jr., who went on to shoot President Reagan and several others.
Up Next: Wuthering Heights