Ranked 95 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies. Watched September 2017
Cast: Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle), Jodie Foster (Iris), Cybill Shepherd (Betsy), Peter Boyle (Wizard), Leonard Harris (Palantine), Harvey Keitel (Sport)
Director: Martin Scorsese
My rating: 8.5 / 10
Insomniac and ex-Marine Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) works the nightshift, driving his cab throughout the decaying 1970s New York City, wishing for a “real rain” to wash the “scum” off the neon-lit streets.
Chronically alone, Travis cannot connect with anyone, not even with such other cabbies. He becomes infatuated with presidential campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and later with teen hooker Iris (Jodie Foster) as Travis becomes increasingly paranoid and unstable.
What’s to Like
Gritty 1970s New York City, classic scenes (You Talkin’ to Me??), descent into madness and violence.
What’s not to Like
Seeing Travis (Robert De Niro) descent into madness is like watching a car crash, you know you shouldn’t look but you can’t pull away. Travis was likely so traumatised by Vietnam that he volunteers to go into the scary rough places in New York.
Travis is fairly clueless in relationships with people. He wants to feel connections with others but can’t successfully interact. Travis is rejected by beautiful political aide Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) after a catastrophic date where he takes her to a porn theatres and doesn’t understand what the problem is. Travis then becomes ambiguously obsessed with child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster), abused by her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) that he feels he needs to rescue her.
Travis despises the scrum of New York even though he is drawn to the seedy areas, maybe as it makes him feel something even it is all negative as he becomes increasingly aggressive and day dreams of violence. The violent pressure building in Travis is made worse by his interactions with his passengers, especially after listening to the psychotic fantasies of a creepy passenger, a cameo from Scorsese himself.
When first rejected by Betsy Travis starts planning to assassinate the Presidential candidate she is supporting. He trains and plans for this murder but ultimately changes focus on ‘rescuing’ Iris. The rescue is bloody and you expect Travis to be killed, in fact he seems to expect it as well and might even finally be happy but that’s not his fate this time.
Instead Travis is seen as a hero for killing the pimp and trash in the building where Iris worked. Iris returns to her parents and they are very thankful for what he did. What only the audience knows is Travis was headed for violence anyway, while he is a hero in his mind, he definitely isn’t in action.
The movie ends with Travis free and his fellow drivers happy for him but you can see the pressure for violence will raise again as Travis is broken and he will lose it again.
Travis’ descent into madness and violence is present even before we first met him. The decaying New York City and everyone’s lack of respect for each other make this a dark movie, but one the creates a times capsule of its times when Presidents assassinate attempts regularly occurred and violent crime was out of control and people were extremely disconnected.
- Best Picture (Michael Phillips & Julia Phillips) – nominee
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert De Niro) – nominee
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jodie Foster) – nominee
- Best Music, Original Score (Bernard Herrmann) – nominee
I love how the character of Travis is one that we feel bad for but must despise in both his personal life and his ultimate actions.