26.7.13

Taxi Driver

My favourite scene is Travis watching television with a gun in his hand and eating mayonnaise with a spoon from a jar on his lap. With his foot he pushes the TV slowly over as the soap opera romantic betrayal unfolds. The scene encapsulates both the character's yearning to escape a closed autoerotic cycle through violence and the desire to take sadistic revenge for being rejected by society (and its women). In the making-of documentary, the film's writer Paul Schrader says the script started out as an exploration of loneliness (which is made explicit in the voiceover at the beginning). But as Schrader wrote it, he discovered that it was turning into a study of the way loneliness was self-imposed through contradictory behaviour: puritanism and pornography, exercise and drug abuse. It's THIS stuff – fear of women particularly – that lies behind Travis's evolving eccentricity and extremism. The assassination attempt at the rally is partly inspired by envy, the presidential candidate's "here is..." being far more accomplished that the solitary ravings of a taxi driver in his apartment. Likewise the chaotic raid on the brothel. Both of the blond-haired ladies he wishes to save look to other male figures for protection: politicians, pimps and gangsters providing greater avenues for freedom (Iris's mention of "Women's Lib" is only partly ironic) than messianic fantasists.

The white knight turns out to be a bumbling Quixote. The film puts the archetype of the noir anti-hero under a series of stress tests under which he is revealed to be a pathetic neo-nazi. The ending underlies the danger of celebrating such reactionary impulses. The lonely outsider isn't an conscientious ascetic refusing to participate in the corruption around him, he is infected by it on a far more insidious level. The retreat from society reinforces paranoid and exaggerated ideas about it, which make it less likely for you to be able to change anything. And yet the taxi driver's crusade makes all the papers and he walks free, seeing visions of lost repenting women in the night. How long before he finds another blond beauty to defend, other black enemies to destroy?

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