Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Favorite Film, part 1

A lot of times, when I tell folks what my favorite film is, I get strange looks, lots of surprised faces, and the general sense that people are mentally questioning my mental stability. Some people think that movies about absolutely psychotic war veterans, pimps and 12-year old prostitutes are sick, and should not be shown in theaters. Of course, this is partly true; the concept is rather disturbing, and the violence is overwhelming at times. But I have heard people express such disgust with my favorite film that they would rather it come off the shelves entirely than trying to get around the violence of that epic final scene. I am, if you haven't noticed by now, talking about Martin Scorsese's disturbing portrayal of a man driven to the edge by insanity, sexual depravity and loneliness. I am talking about Robert De Niro's brilliant performance as Travis Bickle, a deeply disturbed Vietnam War veteran-turned-taxicab driver who wants nothing but to be able to control his life, and perhaps the lives of those around him. I am, of course, talking about "Taxi Driver", and when I am talking about "Taxi Driver", I am talking about my favorite film.

There is not one person on this planet that can claim to know anything about film without having seen "Taxi Driver". I'm not saying you have to like it to be a true film buff, but you have to at least see it, and at least try and comprehend the thing. Most film buffs will tell you that "Taxi Driver" is a great film, but, for the all-time greatest, they will go with, say, "Casablanca", or "Schindler's List" or, my personal #2, "The Godfather". The thing about "Taxi Driver", I think, is that there is a pretty common misconception that if you can watch that film without being scarred for life, you have got some pretty psychopathic blood running through your veins. This is simply not true, but because of this, I think that "Taxi Driver" has been condemned in many circles, and has often been tossed aside when someone is considering their top movies list. For instance, the American Film Institute ranks "Taxi Driver" at number 47 out of the top 100 movies in the past 100 years. Forty-seven. Now, this, to me, is absolutely absurd. I don't mean to say that any of the movies that succeed "Taxi Driver" on the list are less than their current rank on the list, (except maybe "West Side Story", at number 41, a film I never really cared for) I just feel like the film delves so deeply into the human spirit that it is sometimes hard for those viewing to understand the mood of the film. All they can see is the the teenage prostitutes, the gory violence, and that one scene, with Marty Scorsese himself, where a cuckolded passenger in Bickle's cab tells him all about how he's going to shoot his cheating wife with a .44 pistol, in two places where no one wants to be shot.

Just to let you folks know, if you have not seen the picture, and intend to see it, it's quite possible that I ruin a lot of the plot for you, seeing as this is not so much a review but an opinion. You've been warned.

"Taxi Driver" tells the story of Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran who, after being honorably discharged with no proper education and no prospects, is forced to hack in 1970s New York City. De Niro has always been good at playing sort of a washed-up bum or a loser; a guy who is trying to get his act together but can't seem to manage. From "Taxi Driver", his first dramatic role as a fella who's down and out, to "Raging Bull", where he plays Jake Lamotta, a boxer in the 1940s struggling to get a shot at the middleweight championship, to his buddy-buddy comedy with Charles Grodin, "Midnight Run", as an ex-cop working as a bounty hunter for a bail bondsman. Bickle is struggling to find meaning in his life, struggling to find a friend in the lonely bowels of Manhattan. He has nothing to hold on to in life when, all of a sudden, he catches site of Betsy, a campaign worker for Charles Palantine, who is running for president of the United States. He promptly walks up and asks her out on a date. The date goes well, but when the second date goes terribly, (Bickle attempts to take Betsy to see an adult film, and she is not impressed) she dumps him on the spot. This, of course, sets Bickle off on a rage when he storms the Palantine office and curses Betsy out. This marks the beginning of Bickle's slow downward spiral into depression and insanity.

In one particular scene, it is obvious that Bickle has become almost a full-blown psychopath. One of the leading signs of psychopathy is amorality, or complete lack of remorse or sorrow. In one scene, Bickle makes his way into a bodega around the corner from his apartment, presumably to pick up some groceries or something of the like. While he is in the back of the store, another man comes in and holds up the clerk at the front desk. Bickle slowly walks up behind the man and draws his gun. "Hey", he says, and, when the man turns, Bickle shoots him point blank in the chest. As he is on his way out, he mentions to the clerk that he doesn't have a license for his gun. This, to me, was the first point where Bickle had clearly become psychopathic, as he showed no remorse for killing somebody, just worry that he might not be able to save his own ass because of a permit. This is also the realization that, even though you may be cheering for him, as the main character, Bickle is an antihero; a man who, even though the film revolves around him, the audience must realize is sick, a man who no one in the audience should want to be friends with in the real world. But, even as we watch Bickle fall into the deep abyss of violence and self-hatred, we are glued to the screen, anxious to see what becomes of a man whom we have grown to care about, despite his extreme insanity and many, many faults. This is what is so compelling about "Taxi Driver", and this is why it is my favorite film.

There will be another part to this, another day. I definitely have more to say, but not now. Thanks.


1 comment:

  1. thanks for your insightful analysis. the film is hard to watch at times, but to look away would be a crime. looking forward to your next review. i'm guessing it won't be for the king's speech.