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Alienation in Taxi Driver

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Taxi Driver is a 1976 film written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese.  In the film, Manhattan taxi driver, Travis Bickle is a lonely ex-Vietnam Marine by the age of 26.  The film centers on his chronic depression and insomnia as it gradually causes him to distance himself from society.  To cope with his depression, Bickle spends the majority of his days in porn theaters and driving around New York City.  With absolutely no success at finding his place in big city society, Bickle internalizes his loneliness and becomes a complete recluse, only to rebel against the darkest aspects in the city that he despises.

            Bickle’s descent into madness or seclusion from society can initially be seen in response to his interactions with women.  When he develops an interest in Betsy, he is able to sympathize with her loneliness and convince her to go out on a date with him when he says,

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. (Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver)

Betsy is initially turned on by this and agrees to go out on a date with Bickle, but when he takes her out he takes her to a pornographic movie theater.  This is a sign that Bickle is a bit disturbed an not in tune to the nature of women.  Betsy leaves the theater and goes home alone.  She then excommunicates from Bickle.  This results in Bickle becoming depressed in response to being rejected.  An example of the bitterness Bickle feels due to being rejected by Besty can be seen in his rant about women when he says, “I realize now how much she’s just like the others, cold and distant, and many people are like that, women for sure, they’re like a union (Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver).  This one rejection develops into a resentment towards all women which spirals Travis into a chain reaction of depressive behavior.  No director could better demonstrate the authentic violent nature of of inner city American depression ans seclusion than Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese is the perfect example of an auteur. He uses similar thematic consistencies throughout all of his work.  These include Catholicism, virgin/whore conflict, redemption, ethnic pride, and of course crime culture.  In addition, he supports all of his plots with very eclectic soundtracks recognizable of each films respective era.  His use of cinematography is very similar in all of his films.  He utilizes the fluid motion of the camera with each shot, while making the mis-en-scene of each frame detrimental to the plot of his stories.  This is most apparent in Taxi Driver in the way many of the frames are dimly lit or spacious isolating Travis in the center of the frame to imply that Travis is depressed, menacing, and lonely.  Scorsese is also know for using some of the same actors in his films, specifically Robert Deniro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel.  Of his large body of work, Taxi Driver  symbolizes the more dark psychological example of his talents.

            Scorsese’s visual style relies on the city of New York.  Taxi Driver embodies the culture that comes with the location.  In the film, the audience is subjected to getting to know characters who spend their time womanizing, hustling, fighting, and drinking.  On top of this, the vastness of Manhattan enforces the feeling of loneliness Scorses means to imply is taking over Travis’s life.  Bickle is thrown into an American crime subculture, which though often overlooked actually set the foundation for big city society and has some initial connection with most big business in America today.  This is the cultural value that is inherent in Taxi Driver, but even more so in most of Scorsese’s films.  On the other hand, his work has been accused of perpetuating many of the stereotypes which haunt Italian Americans throughout the United States.  His films depict characters who interact with a dialect that is authentic to New York, but not to all New Yorkers.  The majority of Scorsese’s most popular films represent the criminal underbelly of New York.  In response to his depressive loneliness, Travis Bickle internalizes the dark aspects of this city life and he rebels against it.

            The city that Travis works as cab driver in is gritty and depressing.  The underbelly of Manhatten is depicted in the film, and Travis is seen as a man trying to find his place among what he considers to be the scum of society.  Scorsese specifically chooses not to show the audience the upper end of New York, so that there is no question that Travis has no other options.  The ironic aspect of this comes into play when Travis’s secluded life appears more productive and noble than the world outside his apartment.  He becomes a crusader for a righteous merit; he says, “Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.(Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver)”  Once he has settled in his loneliness, it becomes his destiny.

Scorsese designs perfect shots to relay the levely of isolation Bickle endures.  One scene in particular Bickley is sitting on his bed facing the ceiling and the camera pans up from the god’s eye point of view to show empty space around him in his dingy arpartment with very little furniture.  Another scene that perfectly depicts the moment when Bickley has crossed over into the realm of insanity can be seen right before he makes the attempt on the Senator’s life.  There is a shot that shows Travis with his hair cut in a Mohawk, he’s wearing sunglasses and army fatigues.  This is such a menacing image, and yet the audience still sympathizes with him as a hero.  This is a testament to the writing of Paul Schrader.

In sum, the film works as a build up to Bickle’s redemption from his solitude.  The end of the Taxi Driver serves as a resolution to all of the inner conflict which Bickle has developed up to this point..  Hints of Travis’s inner frustration can be seen through his dialogue with others, and himself.  When he says things like, “Shit… I’m waiting for the sun to shine”, or “Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.”  The audience is made well aware that he is not in the best mood; but, his gradual descent into madness is depicted on screen through his non-conformist acts.  He shaves his head into a Mohawk; he adopts a military daily regiment of personal training, and buys guns.  This makes it very clear to the audience that Travis’s complex is much deeper than depression and he is on the verge of self destruction.  In the end, the result of his alienation is a positive one, and he is proclaimed in the papers as a hero.  This ending has led to much critical controversy over Scorsese’s supposed comment on society.  What is even more ironic is that Bickle refers to himself as “God’s lonely man,” which poses the concept that since he finds redemption as a hero his unwanted isolation was intended to mold him into a tool for God.  The concept is as open-ended as the film itself.

Work Cited

“Taxi Driver.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 28 Nov 2007, 06:21 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 6 Dec 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Taxi_Driver&oldid=174314994>.

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