I’ve made mention a few times in more modern reviews of Palme d’Or winners that I wasn’t entirely convinced they deserved the honor. Of course, this is compared with films of the bygone yesteryears that were so fantastic and deserving that the Palme d’Or was associated with honor because of them. A perfect example, perhaps none more so, is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Continuing Scorsese’s working association with Robert De Niro, this film is such a powerful evocation of suffering that I don’t even know where to begin. Such a film would hardly make for entertaining, or even bearable, watching, but Taxi Driver escapes this pratfall deftly.
Anyone who considers themselves a film fan knows the story. There’s Travis Bickle, a wayward taxi driver in New York City, who’s a troubled insomniac with little drive in his life; he takes the job of a taxi driver solely because he can’t sleep at night and, in his own words, he “might as well get paid for it”. Aside from a burgeoning romance with a campaign volunteer named Betsy, there’s really nothing to his life, until a run in with an underage prostitute named Iris, famously portrayed by Jodie Foster. For some reason, Iris sticks in his mind, and after a few more encounters with her, he decides to take matters into his own hands, for both Iris, and for the purpose of “cleaning the scum off the streets”, as he put it to Presidential candidate Palantine. Moody and melodramatic in the best of ways, Scorsese is noted for saying he wanted to construct the film as if it were a delirious fantasy world, a heightened and fictional account of reality, and he succeeds beyond all measure. The colors are simultaneously saturated and washed out, creating a disillusioned feel to the world, and the swinging saxophone score contributes highly to the ethereal mood. The film never really feels real, but it is still very serious and affecting; just because it’s not neorealistic doesn’t mean it is unbelievable. De Niro is excellent as a vapidly disconnected individual disillusioned with the outside world, and he pulls it all together in the explosive finale. But it is Scorsese who deserves the most praise here, making the film exactly what he wanted of it, and it is a hell of a vision, and accomplishment. Scorsese himself even has a memorable cameo as one of Bickle’s passengers, the one who draws attention to his wife’s silhouette in the window before saying he plans to kill her.
Pretty much the only concern I would have for anyone who has yet to see this is that there are a few points that are deliberately slow, but it does pick up after a little bit. Still, I do know some people have infinitesimal attention spans, and this might bug the crap out of them, being immersed for brief spouts and then waiting for something to happen. To these people, I’d say; stick through it. The climax is worth it all. Not that the film should be watched solely as a lead-up to the climax, like Carrie; the climax is merely the payoff to an incredible experience of diving down into the underbelly of a man’s mindset of the world, and what he eventually does about it. If you haven’t seen this yet, this is a true classic of the cinema and certainly warrants your attention. Check this one off your own “I can’t believe I’ve never seen this” list; it is completely worth the respect it has.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10