Taxi Driver (1976)
Written by Paul Schrader
Cinematography by Michael Chapman
Starring Robert DeNiro, Cybill Shepherd, and Jodie Foster
Taxi Driver is certainly one of those “bad to worse” dramas, but what makes it so brilliant is that despite Travis’ low starting point, we see some glimmer of hope early on that lends his disintegration a weight it might not otherwise have. His encounters with Betsy show that Travis has the potential to be confident, sensitive, and honest in a way that his more well-adjusted counterparts are not. The fact that he is gutsy enough to ask her out and impress her is also, of course, part of the unrestrained and slightly dissociated behavior that eventually manifests in violence.
I’m not entirely convinced that his taking Betsy to a sexual movie is a metaphorical rape, or even self-sabotage necessarily, except in the sense that Travis feels inclined to manipulate the society around him and test his own limits of behavior within it. The fact that someone like him and someone like Betsy are on a date together is already, in my opinion, a result of Travis’ inclination to “play” with society, which suggests his own detachment from life (it feels unreal to him) and from society (he sees himself as a kind of puppeteer). The horror film lighting and violence in the final scene, and the overhead shots throughout the film underscore the unreality of what Travis sees, as do the fleeting images reflected in the rearview mirror of his taxi cab. That Travis becomes a kind of hero in the end by “saving” Iris is just another example of his almost comic ability to manipulate society from the outside. There is a hint of a smile on Travis’ face when he reads the newspaper clippings about himself; he has ultimately gained power in the game, and through his notoriety he has won, however subconscious these workings might be. The fact that he may not be entirely aware of these megalomaniacal impulses only makes his character more universal, relatable, and human.