This classic quote captures the essence of the main character of “Taxi Driver” (1976). Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) faces himself in the mirror, pseudo-tough, a guardian of right and wrong. He tests his machismo, posing, practicing this line, assuming that this in-your-face stance establishes his manhood and superiority.
“Taxi Driver,” released in 1976 to stunned audiences, stands the test of time. With a screenplay written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese, this early film gem illuminates the darkness of a man’s soul. We know little about Bickle other than that he’s a taxi driver and Viet Nam war veteran. It is obvious, though, he is deeply wounded within.
There is not much more of a back story for Travis other than what we can surmise. What holds Travis together is his apparent feeling of superiority. He constantly spews about his own high moral standards and general disgust with humanity.
There is a bright spot in his life, however. Travis is infatuated with campaign worker Betsy (Cybil Shepherd). But, after a fallout with her, Travis takes all the pain, rejection, and revulsion (both internal and external) and decides to act. He is repelled not only by self-serving politicians. He also hates the seedy people he sees regularly as a cabby, including pimps like Sport (Harvey Keitel), who take advantage of young girls (Jody Foster).
The rest of the cast for this film is also magnificent. Peter Boyle is Wizard, a fellow cabbie and street philosopher of sorts, and Albert Brooks – in his first film role – is campaign worker Tom. Shepherd is wonderful her role as an alluring but wary young woman who is curous about and a bit attracted to the rather odd Travis. Foster, only 14 years old at the time, plays Iris with true-to-life vulnerability. Keitel as a long-haired pimp is jittery, sarcastic, and slick. But De Niro dominates, revealing subtle emotions and thoughts with just the slight change of expression, flick of his head, glance of his eyes.
The most poignant scene to me is where Travis is talking on the phone to Betsy. The cutaway to the hallway as Travis’s heart is broken is meaningful for what it does not show. Here’s a link to that moment.
The scene that starts with Travis’s peculiar interaction with Sport leads to a cascade of violence. Travis’s kinetic dark energy bursts as he engages in his final acts of revenge, a shocking display of violence in 1976. It is hard to know how today’s audiences will respond to this chilling masterpiece in light of the graphic and realistic nature of screen violence now shown on film and television.
Check out the retro trailer at the top of this article. This film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (De Niro), Best Actress in a supporting role (Foster) and Best Music, Original Score. In fact, it won numerous accolades at Cannes, at the BAFTA Awards, and at other film events.
At the KiMo, 423 Central Avenue NW in downtown Albuquerque, the screening is one night only, Wednesday, October 1 at 7 pm. Tickets range from $5 to $7. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a classic well-respected film on the big screen.
Sources of information: IMDb website , KiMo website