“I’ll tell you why. 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.”
‘Taxi Driver’, directed by Martin Scorsese in 1976, is an American drama starring Robert De Niro as a disenfranchised New Yorker who starts to have violent fantasies. De Niro plays Travis Bickle who, through the course of the film, has a series of encounters with the underworld and political establishment that lead him to take drastic measures to cure what he sees as the corruption of the city. Bickle is a man in search of an identity. He’s like a blank canvas, constantly looking for anything that can give him a sense of belonging: women, guns, pornography, taxi driving, political assassination, vigilanteism: all seem to offer him a place in society but all turn out to be red herrings. He finds his solution alone in his flat watching television and fashioning an identity from without. He turns his body into an armoury, shaves his head and wears a repurposed military uniform in the style of the punk subculture, but this modification only goes so deep. Inside he’s the same vacuum of meaning; a taxi driver who feels like he is more than he is. Each time he has the opportunity to put his counter-cultural fantasies into action he fails. He fails to murder Palantine (a presidential candidate), he fails to buy drugs from a gun dealer when offered; he fails to woo a potential girlfriend with pornography; he even fails to kill himself. He seems desperate to make a final act of subversive rebellion, but seems doomed to become the middle American that Nixon appealed to: anti-drugs but pro-guns, conformist, ‘rescuing’ Iris and returning her to her family outside of the city.
Would I recommend it? It’s a grinding film that somehow manages to balance a dystopian view of the city with an almost Fellini-like romantic depiction of it. Watch in a double bill with Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ for a contrast.