I first saw Taxi Driver at probably the wrong time. I was a little too young and a little too ignorant, and the film that I was about to watch was a little too breathtaking and unexampled for a 14 year old to really comprehend. But a few months ago, after watching Martin Scorcese’s recent masterpiece, Silence, I decided t give it another run through. Over forty years after it was first released, it would be an understatement to say that this film still has the capacity to blow the viewer away.
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a veteran, honourably discharged from the recently concluded Vietnam War. He drives a taxi around New York City at night, depressed and unable to sleep, taking notes and reflecting on the state of his city.
He encounteres murderers and psychopaths, politicans and porn-cinemas, but it is an encounter with the child prostitute Iris, played by Jodie Foster, that provides what Travis percieves to be the true manifestation of the city. It is corrupt, it is stagnant, and it needs to be cleansed.
The issue with Taxi Driver is that you have to watch the film having educated yourself about it beforehand. As with all films or works of art or cultural symbols that have threaded themselves into the cultural consciousness, they lose their power to amaze by being referenced over and over again, all of the time.
You would be hard put trying to find someone who doesn’t know the line ‘you talking to me?’, made immortal by the improvised genius of Robert De Niro, just as you might find it hard to find someone who doesn’t know the lines ‘Hulk Smash’ or ‘I’ll be back’. But what is additionally annoying is that people rarely know where the famous line came from. Then again, this is what makes Taxi Driver so brilliant and insightful.