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Taxi Driver: Existential Genius


“All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go” – Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver

Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) is that of a timeless masterpiece. Over 40 years old, but more relevant than ever and arguably the greatest film of the 70’s. In a world where we are afraid to communicate with others, where we constantly communicate online but never in reality, we have created this sense of false meaning, showing how Scorsese’s Taxi Driver scarily still has great relevance within contemporary society.

Taxi Driver tackles loneliness in an extremely raw and unfiltered light, demonstrating the extreme effect of isolation. Even through the soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, it is so clear to feel the great sense of constant loneliness embodied by Travis Bickle. Taxi Driver is essentially a genius execution at a character study, exploring Travis Bickle in a way that no film has ever studied a character like so. Scorsese presents an experience in which we see the world through Travis’ eyes, and as such we begin to feel his loneliness through Scorsese’s fantastic directing and De Niro’s masterful acting. The notion of being immersed by city lights, people, and tall buildings yet finding oneself in solitude demonstrates the importance of Taxi Driver as a comment on society and its lack of meaning. It seems that within everyday life we constantly search for more and more, attempting to clutter our surroundings with material objects in order to feel something. However, with Travis, we see a man who has essentially accepted the fate of reality being meaningless, and all he clings to are his pills and handgun. 

When watching Taxi Driver it is important to understand the key role that existentialism plays within Travis Bickle as a character, illustrating a man who is suffering with the absurdity of life and relentlessly trying to fight it. Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus describes how ‘great feelings take with them their own universe’, evoking how once Travis’ feelings of isolation ultimately take over, that is when loneliness embodies him and becomes his world. We see a man with nothing who clings onto the notion of getting revenge and that is all. There is something strangely morbid about this, a man who needs somewhere to belong. We see this through Travis’ obsession with Betsy, he needs to be with her so that he can need someone and someone will need him, almost like a coping mechanism of sorts. 

Travis’ misanthropic view upon life is ultimately what elicits his obsession for the need to belong somewhere. The irony is that he chooses to hate everything and everyone around him, therefore it is a never ending circle of insanity where he will never arrive at what he wants. He searches, but only looks where he will never find what he needs. It’s as if he knows nothing but hatred and to fall into a world not filled with something to be disgusted at would in turn just make him uncomfortable. He has essentially found a twisted sense of peace in his world of chaos. However, as hate filled Taxi Driver can be, there is something extremely peaceful about the way Scorsese directs the film. Maybe it is the soundtrack that implies this. Nonetheless, Taxi Driver is a masterpiece that needs to be watched by all.

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