Taxi Driver (1976)

Forty-five years ago today, the film Taxi Driver premiered in San Francisco. It is on every best film list every calculated and for good reason. You need to watch this movie.

Title: Taxi Driver
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Produced by: Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips
Written by: Paul Schrader
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Edited by: Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf, Melvin Shapiro
Production Company: Bill/Phillips Productions, Italo/Judeo Productions
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date: February 8, 1976
Running time: 114 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1.9 million
Box office: $28.4 million
Cannes Film Festival: Palme d’Or
Hochi Film Award: Best Foreign Film
BAFTA Award Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music Bernard Herrmann
BAFTA Award Best Supporting Actress Jodie Foster
BAFTA Award Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Jodie Foster

Travis Bickle is a lonely, depressed 26-year-old honorably discharged U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran living in isolation in New York City. Travis takes a job as a night shift taxi driver to cope with his chronic insomnia, driving passengers around the city’s boroughs. He frequents the porn theaters on 42nd Street and keeps a diary in which he consciously attempts to include aphorisms, such as “you’re only as healthy as you feel.”

Travis becomes infatuated with Betsy, a campaign volunteer for senator and presidential candidate Charles Palantine. After watching her interact with fellow worker Tom through her window, Travis enters to volunteer as a pretext to talk to her, then takes her out for coffee. Betsy agrees to go on another date with him, during which he takes her to see a pornographic film. A disgusted Betsy leaves. Travis attempts to reconcile with her, to no avail. Enraged, he storms into the campaign office where she works and berates her, before he is ordered to leave by Tom. Travis concedes that she is “just like the others”.

Travis is disgusted by the sleaze, dysfunction, and prostitution that he witnesses throughout the city, and struggles to find meaning for his existence. Travis confides in fellow taxi driver Wizard about his thoughts, which are beginning to turn violent; however, Wizard assures him that he will be fine, leaving Travis to his own destructive path. In an attempt to find an outlet for his frustrations, Travis begins a program of intense physical training. A fellow taxi driver refers him to a black market gun dealer, “Easy” Andy, from whom Travis buys four handguns. At home, Travis practices drawing his weapons, and modifies one to allow him to hide and quickly deploy it from his sleeve. He also begins attending Palantine’s rallies to scope out their security. One night, Travis enters a convenience store moments before an attempted armed robbery, and kills the robber.

On his trips around the city, Travis regularly encounters Iris, a child prostitute. He fantasizes about saving her from her life of exploitation. Travis solicits her and tries to convince her to stop prostituting herself and go home to her parents, and gives her money to start a new life. Soon after, Travis cuts his hair into a mohawk, and attends a public rally where he plans to assassinate Palantine. However, he is chased away by Secret Service agents who see him drawing his gun.

That evening, Travis drives to the brothel where Iris works. He confronts Iris’s pimp, “Sport”, outside of the brothel, and shoots him with his gun. He enters the building and engages in a shootout with Sport, the bouncer, and Iris’s client, and is shot several times. Travis manages to kill the three men, before slumping on a couch next to a sobbing Iris. He attempts to kill himself, but is out of bullets. As police report to the scene, a delirious Travis imitates shooting himself in the head.

Travis goes into a coma due to his injuries. He is heralded by the press as a heroic vigilante, and is not prosecuted for the murder of the men. He receives a letter from Iris’s father, thanking him for saving her. After recovering, Travis returns to work, where he encounters Betsy as a fare. Travis drives her home, and allows her to leave without paying her fare, departing with a smile. As Travis drives off, he becomes suddenly agitated after noticing something in his rear-view mirror.

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