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Taxi Driver’ impacts audience with character study

Observer Scene | Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Loneliness is certainly a feeling most people can connect with. Maybe that’s why Martin Scorsese’s 1976 “Taxi Driver” has always been such a popular and powerful film. It’s one of the few movies that hits the viewer in the gut. The sad isolation of Travis Bickle, the titular cabbie, is nearly palpable throughout the film. So 31 years after its theatrical release, on the heels of Scorsese’s victory at the 2007 Academy Awards, “Taxi Driver” has been re-released. What can be said of this film package? To focus on just one aspect of the movie is to do it a great injustice, because from the script, to the shooting, to the acting, everything ties together seamlessly. Without spoiling the plot, a basic summary is as follows: Travis Bickle is a man in his mid-twenties living in New York City during the 1970s. He has trouble connecting with the people around him and his surroundings in the city. To occupy himself at night he finds a job as a taxi driver. Throughout the film, Travis slowly unravels, becoming more paranoid and violent as time goes on. Although he may not connect with society, the viewer certainly connects with Travis. It is obvious that Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader, along with Robert DeNiro, really understood the character they were trying to portray. Their depiction of this isolated man is a character study. Travis Bickle is a real person, however disturbed. In the special features, Scorsese talks about how the shooting techniques of the film emphasize the feeling of isolation. This is definitely evident when watching the film, as the camera reflects how Travis is “ostracized,” in Scorsese’s words, from the people around him. The way New York City is shown is the way Travis sees it- filthy and impenetrable. With a different director, he may have seemed psychotic, but Scorsese shows just how human Travis really is. The filmmaker never passes a judgment, he merely depicts events from Travis’ point of view and lets the viewers draw their own conclusions.As for the re-release, the special features for the film definitely have merit, unlike the useless featurettes of many modern DVDs. The interview with Martin Scorsese is certainly the most intriguing of these, providing a great deal of perspective on the meaning, background and influence of the film, although all of the special features included do this in different ways. One of the most valuable insights, however, comes from Paul Schrader, who says that Travis is not by nature a lonely person, but that he makes himself lonely. Travis is a victim of himself, and the viewer sees those feelings gradually become “malignant and violent,” Schrader says. Everyone interviewed about the movie speaks passionately of it, and this shows again how much of an impact “Taxi Driver” has on people. Oliver Stone remarks that it reveals “a truth” about humanity, and that is clearly correct. It is a unique film, more comparable to Albert Camus’ novel, “The Stranger,” than anything else – as both portray a main character’s disconnect with society.Although both Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro would continue on to great things after this film, it left a mark on both of them. This film is not only one of the finest by the pair (working together or separately), but also one of the greatest of all time. The re-release is essential for any person who considers themselves a fan of cinema, as the special features grant a new perspective on the creation, filming and meaning of the film. But even without those, it is worth owning. The acting is stellar, the filming is superb and the writing is untouchable. “Taxi Driver” truly is one of the handful of perfect films to ever be produced. Buy this release, or have a movie collection with a gaping hole in it.