Years ago, I finally watched Taxi Driver (1976), one of those classic movies I’d been hearing about forever but for whatever reason never got a chance to see. Going in, I couldn’t have been more excited. First, it was directed by legendary director Martin Scorsese, who I think directed one of the best gangster films of all time, Goodfellas. Secondly, I knew of the movie from its many iconic scenes (“You talkin’ to me?”) and wanted to see them in context. Lastly, being a native New Yorker who’s seen the city transformed so much from when I was a kid in the 1970s, I wanted to take a trip down memory lane.
My reaction when I finally watched the film? Disappointment, just nothing but disappointment. The movie simply didn’t live up to its reputation, and was a huge let down coming from someone like Scorsese. It felt like another Scarface, an average movie that had only achieved iconic status because of a few scenes and catchphrases.
After my initial reaction to Taxi Driver, I vowed that I would never revisit it again–that is, until recently. I figured that I might’ve judged it too harshly the first time and that it would be better to give it a second chance. So, I watched it again recently. And guess what? Not only did my opinion not change, I wound up disliking the movie more than I had the first time, if only because its flaws were even more evident the second time around.
Don’t get me wrong–the movie is well shot, directed and acted. I even love the dialogue (ironic, because it’s usually the dialogue that Taxi Driver‘s haters base their criticisms on). In spite of appreciating the movie’s strengths this time around, there was no getting past so many of its flaws, which were so egregious that it canceled whatever was good about it. So, my feelings still stand. I don’t like Taxi Driver. I don’t think it’s the movie everyone gives it credit for, and for the following reasons:
Its Reputation as Gritty, Dark Realism is Undeserved
I am positively gobsmacked when people celebrate Taxi Driver as being this gritty, dark, envelope-pushing film that pulled no punches.
Are you kidding me?
Okay, admittedly, yes– for the first seven-eighths of the movie, Taxi Driver is a very gritty, harrowing urban drama. We are taken along the ride as a sociopath descends into a madness that causes him to attempt to assassinate an innocent politician and commit mass murder. When Travis finally explodes, that scene in which he’s sitting on the couch couldn’t be grittier, darker or nihilistic. It’s clear that at this point in the movie, Travis is done. He’s going to die. If by sheer miracle he does make it, he’ll spend the rest of his life locked up in prison or a psych ward.
All so very dark, edgy, gritty, right? Right. Too bad about that ending, though, which tacks on the corniest, tritest happy ending you could ever imagine, like something straight out of a 1940s Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. For one, Travis miraculously survives being shot in the neck and rest of his body at point blank range with nothing more to show for it but “a little stiffness”. (Just a quick reality check: when I was a kid, a local Chinese takeout owner was shot in the neck during a robbery. The bullet shattered his voice box. He spoke in a rasp for the rest of his life.)
As if Travis’ medical miracle isn’t bad enough, then there’s his mental illness. After he goes full blown psycho, kills a bunch of people and fails to kill himself, we see him in the last scene of the movie chatting with his taxi buddies as if nothing had happened. Now he’s back to normal, just like that.
It gets worse. In spite of having no justification for killing three men that night–and in spite of being seen menacingly lurking around Palantine’s rally just a few hours before–he doesn’t get arrested at all. In fact, he is hailed as a hero who took out a bunch of criminals. Iris hops, skips and jumps back home, is lovingly embraced by her parents and goes back to school, as if she could just drop her seedy life of drugs and prostitution and readjust to the normal, innocent and obedient life of a 12 year old schoolgirl.
But the worst and most sickening thing of all about the ending is that Travis Gets. The. Girl. Or at the least puts her in her place. Yep. The woman who was justifiably upset with him and later terrified when he kept stalking her suddenly shows up in the last scene, looking humbled and acting as if she might’ve been mistaken about him the entire time. Technically, they don’t hook up in the end but the movie suggests that he’s won her over finally and she’s game or that he’s knocked the uppity bitch off her high and mighty perch and is getting the last laugh.
Wow. Forget for the time being the disturbing moral implications of any of this. Forget about the lack of realism. The biggest problem with this ending is that it’s so typical happy Hollywood ending that it makes Taxi Driver even more simplistic, trite, safe and conventional than the mainstream movies it was supposedly flying in the face of. Yet to this day, people hail it as being a gritty, edgy, dark and daring film? How?
Taxi Driver’s trite ending is why I found the IMDB reviewers condescendingly referring to Saturday Night Fever as “Scorsese light” and “wannabe Scorsese” absurd. Keep in mind that I have problems with that movie as well, but for all its flaws, it was far more daring and edgier than Taxi Driver. Not only did it end tragically, the movie had the balls to lull the audiences into falling in love with the world of disco, only to slap it in the face in the last act and say, “Hey, you stupid morons. It’s a trashy scene for low class losers like Tony Manero who have no future.”
Taxi Driver does the opposite. It spends the entire duration of the movie plunging the viewer into a deep, dark, seedy world filled with violence and mental illness, only to end on an unrealistic, treacly note in which everything resolves itself in the corniest and neatest way possible.
Taxi Driver Squandered Its Brilliance
Taxi Driver reminds me a lot of Vertigo. I know. You think I’m crazy. However, if you read the last part of my essay about Vertigo, you’ll understand why I see a strong similarity between both films.
You see, Taxi Driver, like Vertigo, seemed to have originally started on one incredibly brilliant track, only to have its brilliance undercut by some creative decisions that turned it into a far weaker film. How do I know that? Because all signs indicate that the scene of Travis dying on the couch was supposed to be the very last shot of the movie.
Why do I feel as if Taxi Driver was originally meant to end there? Because if you imagine the movie ending with Travis dying, the scenes that happen earlier in the movie take on a completely different flavor and context. Not only that, a large number of themes suddenly appear when they didn’t before. It’s almost as if by taking out the ending, a veil is lifted and we get to see Taxi Driver in its original state.
To show you what I mean, let’s discuss what the movie is with the ending. With the ending, Taxi Driver is a pedestrian crime drama about a socially awkward, unassuming taxi driver who decides to go vigilante after becoming so fed up with the crime and vice infesting NYC. After getting badly shot in the process of rescuing a 12 year old prostitute, he miraculously recovers from his gun shot wounds and becomes a local hero. He also wins the admiration and respect of a woman who had previously rebuffed him.
Without the ending, Taxi Driver isn’t a crime drama at all. First, it’s a character study inspired by what at the time was still an emerging phenomenon. After the JFK assassination and the Charles Whitman Texas University shootings, Americans had begun wondering about the connection between those types of shootings and “marine training.” (George Carlin even joked about it: “Up on the roof with a Magnum! Bam! Nine dead and they blame marine training.”) So, Taxi Driver, without the ending, is exploring the scenario of an ex-marine cut from the same cloth as Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman having the type of breakdown that would lead him to go on a mass shooting spree.
Secondly, Taxi Driver is a send up of Death Wish, a movie that pandered to racist paranoia about NYC being overrun by violent, dangerous minorities, as well as pushed a ridiculous vigilante fantasy. Lastly, Taxi Driver is a mockery of America’s increasing gun fetishism, which was just getting underway because of a spate of violent mainstream movies, thanks to director Sam Peckinpah and movies like Death Wish and Dirty Harry.
Try to imagine Taxi Driver in the context of character portrait of a mentally unstable ex-marine going crazy right before he goes postal, a mockery of gun fetishism and an answer to Death Wish’s racist paranoia and stupid vigilante fantasy, and you can see that these are the themes that the movie originally set out to explore.
Here is one particular clue to help you out. Many people see the violent showdown in the third act as the socially inept Travis Bickle heroically rising to the occasion to rescue Iris. But view that scene with the ending taken out of the equation (let’s call this Taxi Driver 1.0), and everything changes. Notice that in the violent showdown in the last act, Travis seems to at first successfully take down Iris’ handlers. He shoots two guys, they go down, everything looks fine and he confidently goes to her apartment to rescue her. But then out of nowhere, the pimp comes back with guns blazing and Guy #2 shoots Travis in the arm and neck, mortally wounding him.
Now notice Iris’ reaction when Travis comes to her rescue. She’s not happy about it. She’s devastated. She didn’t want him to kill anyone. In fact, she begs Travis to not shoot Guy #3. When he does, she lies there sobbing her eyes out and looking as if her world has just been shattered. Now notice how, after the bloodbath, Travis tries to kill himself, even though he had succeeded in taking out Iris’ handlers.
In considering this scene without the ending, you can see how Taxi Driver 1.0 originally might’ve been intended to blow apart the ridiculous myth about vigilantism that was so prevalent in movies like Death Wish. In that movie, Paul Kersey gets to walk around killing armed thugs with ease and having everyone kiss his ass for it. In Taxi Driver 1.0, we’re presented the reality–that cleaning up the city of “scum and filth” would never in a million years be the type of cake walk where you just stroll into criminal territory, blow crooks away and walk away unscathed. Chances are, you’ll be mortally wounded in the process. Even if you managed to survive the ordeal, you’d be apprehended by the police in a heartbeat. Making matters worse, it might turn out that the person you had hoped to save never wanted saving in the first place.
The reality of vigilantism is why Travis decides to attempt suicide. Based on shitty movies like Death Wish, he had expected to coolly execute Iris’ handlers, grab her by the hand, walk out of there without so much as a scratch and be her knight in shining armor. Instead, he not only was badly shot, it turns out that Iris didn’t want to be rescued at all and in fact was horrified by what he’d done. On top of that, he probably realized that he was in a shit ton of legal trouble. So, in Taxi Driver 1.0, he attempts to kill himself, both out of disillusionment and the understanding that he’s fucked his future up in the worst way possible.
Here is another clue that Taxi Driver 1.0 was meant to be a completely different film from Taxi Driver 2.0. Again, imagine the movie ending with Travis Bickle dying on the couch. Now ask yourself, “Why are the three criminals that Travis kill white men?” The movie spent so much time doing these fleeting shots of angry black men as if to imply that NYC was overrun with them, only to end with the most violent confrontation happening with three white men. What is the deal?
Some people angry with the film thought it was a cynical ploy to avoid accusations of racism. In other words, they argue that the only reason why the last three guys were white was as a cover to for Taxi Driver’s racism against blacks. But no, if you consider the movie without the ending, you will see that the reason they were made white was for the opposite reason–to make the point that Travis Bickle was racially paranoid. Not only was he racially paranoid, he was projecting his own violent tendencies onto black men.
In other words, here he was, seeing nothing but angry black men everywhere, yet the most dangerous criminal elements were white men. Hell, he himself was a dangerous white man. In fact, he was the most dangerous out of the three white guys he killed and the black robber he shot earlier in the movie. Yet he was seeing black men as the biggest threat to the city because he was projecting his own violent impulses onto them. Brilliant, insightful commentary, huh?
Too bad about that ending, though.
It wasn’t just the ending that threw Taxi Driver off track. There are key scenes in the movie that clearly were meant to underscore how much of a lunatic and gun nut Travis was but were undermined by some self-indulgent creative decisions. For example, the scenes in which he’s wearing and trying out the entire case of guns he bought were supposed to play out as absurd, almost comical. The mohawk was supposed to show that Travis’s descent into madness was now complete.
But because Scorsese played up DeNiro’s physique in the bedroom scene, Travis (who was futzing around looking dorky for most of the movie) finally looks sexy and hip for the first time. When Travis shows up at Palantine’s rally in mohawk and glasses, he doesn’t look crazy. He now looks like a cool bad ass rebelling against a society that kept mocking him for being and looking so socially inept.
These little touches (sexing up Travis in the bedroom scene and giving him a punk makeover) may have given Taxi Driver a cooler and more stylish edge had the movie played everything straighter, but all they did was undermine the brilliant character study of an ex-marine who suddenly goes crazy.
Naturally, some fans of the movie are going to argue, “So what if all of this stuff took Taxi Driver off track? It’s still an amazing film, regardless.” Well, yes, it’s a good film. But it could’ve been a so much smarter and sophisticated movie had it not squandered its brilliance the way it did.
Taxi Driver’s Social Irresponsibility
Now we get to my last biggest issue with Taxi Driver: its social irresponsibility, which was introduced with its ending.
When we meet Travis in the beginning, he is a socially awkward loser showing signs that he’s had a history of mental instability. We learn that he was honorably discharged from the Marines but judging by his current behavior, there’s a strong possibility that he might’ve been discharged because he was mentally unfit for service. Travis is such a socially inept moron, he’s not even intelligent enough to understand that a classy woman like Betsy, who’s working in a high class profession (politics) wouldn’t appreciate being taken to a Times Square porn theater. And every person who meets him kind of makes a comment that he’s a little “off” socially. Betsy says she’s never met a person quite like him, and Iris says he’s a square. Even Iris’ pimp makes a joke about how odd he is.
Without the tacked on happy Hollywood ending, Travis’ obsession with guns and his later foray into vigilantism are framed in a negative light. It’s made perfectly clear that he is a loser and a psycho who is losing his mind. He is also a paranoid racist, seeing NYC as being under siege by angry, black violent men.
With the tacked on happy Hollywood ending, it’s a different story. Now he’s a hero who did his part to clean NYC up, rescued one girl and earned the respect of another. His social awkwardness, isolation and mental problems, which dogged him so much leading up to his vigilantism, become cured.
This “new spin” that Taxi Driver’s ending cast on Travis’ mindset and behavior not only flipped everything on its head, it did several things, all of them disturbing. The first thing it did was validate the distorted, racist perceptions that NYC was being constantly menaced by black men and that they needed to be “cleaned up” with the rest of its “filth”.
The second thing it did was glamorize guns and imbue them with a magical quality. The movie said that if you’re a socially awkward dork with zero social skills, owning and using a gun can result in a positive life transformation. It can turn you from zero to hero, make you cooler, hipper and sexier. One minute, you’re a bumbling, mumbling asshole who everyone kind of looks down on as a “square” and weirdo; the next, you’re a cool bad ass with ripped muscles strutting around in your bedroom wielding a gun with a confidence you never had.
The third thing that Taxi Driver’s ending implied was that if you murder people in cold blood for the “right reasons”, there will be or should be no legal or social repercussions for your actions. The reason why is that in the eyes of the law and the public, you have righteousness on your side. Righteous action trumps morality or even the law, so if you take it upon yourself to go out and kill “bad people” in cold blood, it’s all good. The police and legal system will simply pat you on the back and look the other way.
Lastly, guns will make you invincible to the point of being superhuman. You’ll be able to be shot multiple times at point blank range and not be killed outright or become paralyzed or suffer other permanent life-changing injuries. You can survive a deadly shoot out with no real issues.
Some people may argue in response to what I’ve said, “So what if Taxi Driver suggests all these things? It’s just a movie, anyway. Movies aren’t real life. They’re fantasy.” Well, the problem is that fantasy or not, movies that are very good at playing to an audience’s emotions and shaping its way of thinking can have a real world impact. When a filmmaker shoots a film that has the potential of manipulating people, he has a responsibility to not do anything that might manipulate them in a way that could have a damaging impact on society. If he just says, “Fuck it. I’ll do what I want because I’m an artiste; who cares what kind of detrimental impact my movie could have,” the movie becomes socially irresponsible.
For example, the movie Midnight Express did such a good job selling its distorted image of Turkey to the movie going public that it destroyed the country’s tourism for decades. It didn’t matter that Oliver Stone and Alan Parker had no intention of hurting Turkey and only pulled this image of it being a morally and politically bankrupt, barbaric country out of their asses in order to punch up the drama. The point is that they were effective at manipulating movie goers into thinking that this is what Turkey really was like.
Ditto Taxi Driver. It didn’t matter what the intent of the movie was. Intention or not, it successfully sent messages that wound up inspiring acts of violence or helped exacerbate preexisting problems in the Real World. It’s not a coincidence that John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan on Jodie Foster’s behalf after becoming infatuated with this movie. It’s not a coincidence that a few years later, Bernard Goetz gunned down black youths in a NYC subway, was hailed as a hero and walked away with a light sentence. It’s not a coincidence that NYC became a powder keg of racial tensions in the 1980s. These incidents were either indirectly or directly instigated, fueled or exacerbated by Taxi Driver and other films in this vein, particularly Death Wish.
The crazy irony is that if the movie had ended with Travis Bickle dying on the couch, the movie would’ve been the most socially responsible movie of the 1970s. It would’ve mocked vigilantism, mocked America’s gun fetishism and woken Americans up to the realities of mentally unstable people with access to guns. It would’ve also exposed racial paranoia about the inner city. Instead, it glamorized guns, helped perpetuate Death Wish’s ridiculous vigilante fantasy, gave damaged individuals in the real world a hero to look up to emulate and fueled racial paranoia that dogged cities like New York well into the 1990s.
My Final Thoughts
I can forgive Taxi Driver undermining its social commentary. I can forgive it backing away from its grittiness with a fairy tale ending in which everything magically works itself out in the end. But the social irresponsibility is what kills the movie for me. I can’t like the film in spite of it being expertly directed, well written or well acted. I’m not arguing against its status as a classic film or trying to convince everyone to not like it. I’m just explaining why not everyone is totally on board with this film as a classic.
Interesting and unexpected! But you’re not the only one who sees Taxi Driver’s ending problematic: in fact, there are whole theories on interpreting the very end of the movie as a dream, with Travis dying in the shootout at the brothel. Would this interpretation help changing your mind about the movie? Maybe not, but I thought it interesting to write it here in case you didn’t know.
I’ve read those theories about Taxi Driver being a dream. To me, the dream theory just feels like people grasping at straws to downplay the weakness of the last scene. In other words, it’s people who really love the movie not wanting to accept that the ending was terribly weak. All signs indicate (to me, at least), that the movie was supposed to end with Travis on the couch doing the finger trigger (since that gesture represents his mental illness, which includes gun fetishism). and that the ending was an afterthought.
What you say makes perfect sense, and I also thought that the ending was a bit off when I first saw the movie. It would be interesting to hear from Scorsese, I’ll look for old interviews!
good essay, i liked it! Try this out: right after the camera pulls away from the gritty reality of his shootings, we slowly pan to Travis’ claustrophobic room, where we hear Iris’ parents’ reading their own letter to Travis. (we leave the public spaces of the sickening city and re-enter Travis’ cell-like room.) That’s weird we hear the dad’s voice, right? We hear the dad READING it, in that stilted, awkward voice. Key detail – because I think this awkward cadence is due to the fact that TRAVIS is imagining the dad reading it. The return to the isolation of the room, and the cadence – are tips that we’re back inside Travis’ head. We have soft pleasant music along with it. Then we cut to the drivers kibbitzing in a chummy relaxed way, and Travis is already with them, while the african american man walks up and joins them. Travis is ALREADY a part of the group. Travis is symbolically reintegrated into society, which the multicultural nature of the driver’s group represents. They ARE society, that’s why Travis became a taxi driver, to see and surveill the scum, who are now, though, no longer Other. There is no disconnect tonally between Travis and the other drivers, he’s a Regular Guy. Next scene, we see the beautiful desirable Cybil Shepherd, who he still lustfully stares at. Tellingly, while the sequence started with gentle, heroic praise from the parents (having fulfilled his dream of becoming a savior), we end tonally with his delicious snubbing of her, his aw-shucks it was nothing dismissal of her being impressed by him (as all shooters crave), then drives off with suspicious leerings and side-eyes. In other words, dream or no, he ends the finale with the gravitational pull of his paranoia and contempt bringing him back to negative, not positive, emotions. I think the ludicrousness of the sequence, how it ticks off all of his wish fulfillments so efficiently, strongly argues this sequence is indeed fantasy. I still think you’re right – the ending is better if he just dies on the couch, because he is GOING to die. He got shot in the neck, for god’s sake. Leave it on the bleak note of his stupid nihilistic death. Exit with reality on the couch, not fantasy in his head. The softness of the ending, it’s hazy wooziness, is not as strong as the bluntness and nihilism of the couch. I agree with you.
I have always wanted to like Taxi Driver, but the movie never really pulled me in, and there are long sections of dullness. I simply hate the sax theme of his gentle, better side/aspirations. I have never been able to avoid wincing when it comes on. I also don’t especially feel that DeNiro brought him to life, either. There are a few scenes that really worked for me, namely how Travis’ strange energy lands him a date with the sexy Cybil. Otherwise, De Niro’s performance kept me a distance.
I don’t think you would like the movie “Joker” that much then…
Implying that Joker has an ending that breaks the movie.
So let’s ignore that a volunteer patrol group of mostly black and Hispanic teenagers collected thousands of dollars from subway riders toward a legal defense fund for Goetz?
I didn’t ignore anything. It’s just not relevant to the point that I was making, that Taxi Driver justified vigilantism by playing on real life racial tensions at the time, which then spilled out into real life.
Eh to each their own man because Taxi Driver is a Masterpiece. I feel sorry that you don’t get it
Explain to me what I didn’t “get.”
It was validating to see some real criticism leveled against this movie after hearing so much about how people love it. I watched it today, being a Joker fan, and I really wanted to see one of the movies that make up its film DNA. I was excited for it, and I was really let down by it. I think the movie is incredibly uncomfortable and not wholly all that enjoyable even without the contrived ending, but if it’d ended on the couch I think I would have had an easier time respecting it for its message. If you cut it on the couch at the end there, it ends on a note that makes you really think. Alas, here in reality when the movie continue to go on after, to me it just feels like it disrespects the audience’s intelligence.
I think the way the film and by extension the character are “racist” is true to the era, and true to the reality of racism – you don’t have to be an active, hateful person to be a racist, but social norms and society tend to influence your perspectives in a way that can cause you to unknowingly have racist ideals and perspectives. I got the impression that Travis actually tried hard *not* to be racist from the scene where he talks about he’d take anyone anywhere in his cab, “even spooks”.
Personally, I thought that the ending to Taxi Driver was excellent, you didn’t really give it justice in this article. It was supposed to show that Travis hasn’t changed at all and is eventually going to commit another act of violence, one people don’t see as “heroic”. At the very end of the movie when you see him look shockingly into the rear-view mirror, and you hear the music change, it means he sees more scum on the streets and hasn’t changed one bit. He is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off again.
This part is a bit overly symbolic, but as the end credits roll, you see the same dream-like imagery of NYC as in the opening credits, symbolizing that his cycle has restarted. (I heard this in an interview with the writer, I didn’t even notice that when I watched it, so I’ll agree if you say this is too symbolic for regular viewers to see.)
The irony of the ending IS that society sees him as a vigilante hero, even Betsy who he brought to a porno theater, while the audience knows this isn’t true. If he had succeeded in killing Palantine, society would have seen who he truly was, a mentally ill person addicted to violence and guns. He would be an assassin to society and thrown in jail.
Eventually, whenever Travis blows up again, everyone will see who he truly is. Corny, neat, happy, fairy tale ending? That’s a sick joke. Travis is an ill person, as shown throughout the entire movie, and will eventually kill again. Except next time, it won’t be pimps. It will be another innocent person, like Palantine. All of the positive press calling him a hero will further fuel his delusions. I’m confused how anyone watching this movie could think the writers would just turn him into a hero at the last second, when the rest of the movie is spent showing you how insane Travis really is.
In conclusion, he isn’t being framed as a hero by Hollywood. He is framed as a loner, violent, psycho and yet society didn’t see that, instead glamorizing him as a vigilante who saved a prostitute, thus reinforcing Travis’s delusions. He could of just as easily been called an assassin rather than a hero. Travis will kill again, except next time he won’t be viewed as a hero.
Anyway, I hope my writing here was acceptable. I’m 18 and really love the movie Taxi Driver and debating. I’d love to hear what you have to say about this, I saw you liked a comment on here yesterday so i’m hopeful you’ll see this.
Boy, I really hate to disagree with your response, because of how impassioned and well-written it was. Very few people actually take the time and the effort to explain why they disagree with you (usually, they just flame you or write a one sentence rant or something), so it pains me to disagree with someone when they do write something intelligent, because it makes me feel as if I’m dismissing them.
In any event, I’m going to try my best to explain why I disagree with what you’re saying without coming across as dismissive. In trying to figure out what a film is trying to do, it helps to be familiar with a director’s body of work. The issue I have here is that if you’ve seen enough of Martin Scorsese’s movies, you know that the last thing he’s ever been is subtle. Not only that, he has a habit of being self-indulgent to the point of “getting in his own way”–in other words, of doing something clumsy that actually weakens an otherwise well-crafted movie.
So, when I hear someone say, “You don’t get it; Taxi Driver is trying to do X, Y, or Z,” it’s giving him too much credit, IMO.
For example, say Quentin Tarantino came out with a movie tomorrow filled with violence and the N-word, would you really feel it was true if someone said, “Tarantino is trying to explore social issues around race?” No, because he’s an exploitation filmmaker. He doesn’t care about issues.
It’s the same with Scorsese. Again, to me it’s giving him too much credit when you claim that he’s trying to show that things haven’t changed, Travis is ready to go off again and that there’s an irony to it all. Never in his entire career has Scorsese ever been this nuanced or clever, and I wonder if your opinion would change about Taxi Driver if you did a marathon of, say, Cape Fear, Raging Bull, Shutter Island and Goodfellas. Watch those movies, then rewatch Taxi Driver. I have a strong suspicion that your opinions would change.
I’d actually agree with you, this would be giving too much credit to Martin Scorsese. I’ve seen Goodfellas, Casino, and The Irishman, although i’ll admit I haven’t seen the other movies you’ve listed. Scorsese himself could not have made that ending to Taxi Driver, or the character of Travis Bickle, which is because he didn’t. He directed the film, but did not write the original character, or the ending. Not to discredit Scorsese though, the film would not of been as great as it was (in my opinion) without him.
The script of the movie was written by a man named Paul Schrader, which includes that ending. Your theory about the ending being a last second addition is wrong. As a matter of fact, I think you can find the original script online, which has many differences but still includes the same ending as in the movie. He wrote the script based on his experiences living in his car after his wife left him.
Paul Schrader has said that Travis was on a death mission, and would be dead within six months after the movies events. Next time, he will succeed in dying. Travis is someone that should be understood, not tolerated, and in his opinion, deserves the death penalty for what he did.
Anyways, i’m positive that the intention was for Travis to be seen as someone addicted to violence, who will relapse and kill again. He most certainly isn’t cured at the end of it, as shown by him looking into the mirror at the end. However, everyone has different experiences in life, and different DNA. We also live in a completely different time period, so people are simply going to perceive these movies in different ways. I might not be able to understand those perceptions, but I can respect them. To be fair, I wish they did something a little stronger at the very end, to show Travis will relapse. The scene where he looks into the rearview mirror at the very end seems to get lost on many people, probably because it’s a second long.
Also don’t misunderstand me talking about what the creators say. You shouldn’t have to listen to interviews to understand a movie. I’m simply proving that this was their intention, and that there is reason for people to perceive Travis the way I, as well as many others, do after watching Taxi Driver. I don’t expect you to magically think it’s a masterpiece after me typing this, but I hope you do consider what the intention of the creators truly was. You can think they executed it poorly, but I hope that I may be able to change your mind about it being a cheap Hollywood cop-out.
Source for Paul Schrader’s inspiration on Taxi Driver: https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/taxi-driver-martin-scorsese-screenwriter-paul-schrader/
Paul Schrader saying Travis would be dead within 6 months, and on a death mission (paragraph 4): https://www.indiewire.com/2018/12/robert-de-niro-taxi-driver-sequel-dead-irishman-1202026579/
This is an interview with Paul Schrader that talks about the movie a bit (He discusses the ending in the questions “What’s he redeemed from in Taxi Driver? Is it a cathartic redemption?” and “It’s quite an irony when he goes through the carnage and comes out an accidental hero.”): https://www.filmcomment.com/article/paul-schrader-richard-thompson-interview/
You posted links that seem to support your claims about what Paul Schrader intended. The problem is two of them actually supports my contention that the ending was a typical Hollywood ending that negates the nihilistic themes that came before. In one link, Schrader says that Bickle was an alter ego to express all the rage and misery he was feeling at the time. Naturally, what with Bickle being an extension of himself, Schrader probably was uncomfortable with the implications of a character based on himself going out in a hellish, nihilistic blaze of glory.
In the last link, he says that the movie is only pretending to be a realistic film. He even explains the ending as a “twist” or “gimmick”, where you take a story, push it as far as you can possibly go, and then do a complete 180.
This issue is literally the basis of my misgivings about this movie. It keeps getting hailed as this benchmark in gritty social realism when it’s clearly not. Schrader saying that the ending was never meant to be realistic seems to vindicate him in the face of my complaints, but to me it comes across as that classic cop out that some screenwriters sometimes resort to when a flaw becomes apparent. They’ll claim that the flaw was intended. For example, if there’s a comedy filled with dumb humor (and not in a good way), the screenwriters will say, “Oh, you don’t get it. It was meant to be dumb, so you can’t complain that it’s dumb.”
BTW, I never said that Martin Scorsese wrote the movie, and I know that he didn’t write it. The point is that Martin Scorsese is an auteur and as an auteur, his personality and interests are reflected in the types of material/scripts that he chooses to shoot, as well as the way he interprets this material.
For example, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t write any of the scripts to his movies, yet the plots in his movies have such a signature stamp on them that they’re considered “Hitchockian”. The reason why is that he loved scripts and story ideas that had intricate twists and turns to them. So, even though he didn’t technically write any scripts, his personal preferences resulted in a new type of story sub-genre that is identifiable as Hitchcockian.
It’s the same with Martin Scorsese. It’s not a “gotchya” to mention that Paul Schrader wrote the script to Taxi Driver, when Scorsese has spent his entire career choosing scripts that aren’t subtle or has interpreted scripts in a way that strips them of subtlety. Scorsese didn’t write Cape Fear–which was a very subtle film noir–but his remake has the same signature bluntness that, for better or for worse, you find across all of his films, even though the original source material was nuanced. Given this signature bluntness, it rings false for me when people claim that a movie like Taxi Driver–or any one of his other movies–are nuanced.
I don’t want to go on much longer because then I’ll come across as filibustering. But do know that I appreciate your input and that the whole point of this entry wasn’t to argue people like you out of your positive opinion on the film. It was to put a different perspective out there. There seems to be a consensus that everyone in the world loves this movie. Because of this, people like me have been feeling like the Odd Man Out, so I wanted to write an entry for those who didn’t particularly enjoy the film on the level as everyone else.
I can respect your opinion on the movie, and you make some good points, like about Martin Scorsase. To be fair, my entire argument lies on only a second long clip at the very end of the movie, where he looks shocked into the mirror, implying he’lll kill again. In hindsight, it’s actually poorly exicuted, (seriously one second?) but I still believe it is what they were attempting to say. I wish they made it more obvious because such a short clip gets missed by so many people, and I totally get why so many people think this way about the ending. I guess I feel so strongly about it because I’m scared that if people see the ending like you do, and I say I like the movie, they’ll think I’m a misogynist, insane, or something like that lol. But you don’t seem to, so I guess those fears are unfounded. Hope you have a great day whenever you see this! – Ryan (Sorry for the late reply, I just remembered this conversation as I wrote an essay in my college class on the movie.)
I’m going to have to disagree with you, Taxi Driver is a great film. But I’ll agree that Goodfellas is better.
After reading this article, I have a movie alternative to Death Wish and Taxi Driver that deconstructs the vigilante story. It’s a 90s movie called Falling Down and it has Michael Douglas playing an office worker who just got fired and is driving home on a blistering hot LA day stuck in traffic, he grows impatient and leaves the car to walk home instead. What follows are several events that get escalated by his rage as he encounters several people in the inner city and becomes more and more explosive. I would love to see you watch this and write a piece on it as I feel you’d like this one! Other movies that deconstruct the Taxi Driver and Death Wish themes that you should check out are Joe (1970), Death Sentence, Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone, Blue Ruin and I Saw The Devil.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen Falling Down twice before, but the last time might have been five or six years ago, if not longer. What I remember the most about it is how in the end, there’s this turning point when “D-FENS” finally realizes that he was the villain after thinking he was the hero the entire time. In any event, I’ll definitely have to catch this movie again to see how well it holds up.
Finally a review of this movie that I can get behind! I just watched Taxi Driver for the first time and was shocked by how little it lived up to all the hype.
I agree with you that the ending was so trite in so many ways and it really ruined the movie for me. At first I thought that him not being killed or able to kill himself after the shoot out was just another thing he failed at, which would make sense. But then for him to become a hero and seemingly to resolve his mental health issues after gunning people down in that way was so unrealistic. And Betsy in the cab in that final scene…. There is NO world in which she should ever be in the wrong for dumping his psycho ass.