True confession: I’ve never seen Taxi Driver. Thus, you may be surprised to learn that my first thought on watching this movie was holy shit, it’s Rorschach! That’s right, Alan Moore based one of the characters of his ultra-bleak, ultra-nihilistic graphic novel Watchmen on Travis Bickle. Actually, I’m being kind here – Rorschach is a blatant rip-off of Travis Bickle. Later this semester we will be reading Mr. Moore’s Killing Joke, a graphic novel which has somehow become a classic in certain quarters.
Oh well, onto Taxi Driver. It is obvious from the start of this movie that taxi driver Travis Bickle has problems. His first problem is that he’s pissed off; his second problem is that he can’t connect with anyone, especially women; his third problem is that he has no social skills. Separately none of these problems are insurmountable; combined, they are fucking fatal.
Travis Bickle is a stalker. I am not necessarily talking about women here, although Bickle has a weird, fidgety energy that makes people – especially women – nervous. No, Bickle stalks both men and women. He stalks and attempts to kill Senator Palantine, which parallels Arthur Bremer’s attempted assassination of George Wallace in 1972. Years ago I had to read Mr. Bremer’s diaries for a school assignment, and I believe that the character of Travis Bickle is partly based on Mr. Bremer.
Bickle tries to connect with campaign worker Betsy but they are worlds apart, education, social class, income level. It’s so cute when people say that things like that don’t matter! Also: Bickle has no social skills. When they meet at the diner she doesn’t get his jokes and instead of laughing it off he gets pissed off. He later takes her to a pornographic movie on their first date. Back in the 70’s couples actually went to X-rated movies, but it’s not something you did on a first date. It’s an honest – on revision I eliminated the word stupid – mistake on his part.
I don’t think Bickle’s mental wires are crossed. He knows he has problems. One of my favorite scenes in Taxi Driver is when he talks to Wizard, a salt of the earth type who is really an idiot in disguise. Look at it in this context: everyone wants their life to mean something. Bickle’s life means nothing. It’s sad. Taxi Driver is like his disastrous date with Betsy, ad infinitum – he’s trying but he keeps fucking up. Maybe it’s just his nature.
Digression: boy oh boy, that scene in the convenience store is totally mental.
Taxi Driver is a very grim movie, but there are a few funny parts. Bickle has an off-the-wall sense of humor that gets more unhinged as the movie progresses. Meet Henry Krinkle of Fair-Lawn, NJ! He doesn’t even try to get the zip code right.
The music was one of the few negative points of Taxi Driver for me. It reminded me of 1970’s sitcoms and Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer TV show. The cinematography is amazing. Let me repeat: the cinematography is amazing. Look, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is playing! This movie brings back the New York City of my childhood, when 42nd Street was full of porn stores, the subways were filthy and New York City wasn’t some sort of glorified Disneyland. Nowadays, walking down 42ndStreet, past the Panera’s and the M&Ms Store, thinking – you used to be dangerous.