Taxi DriverTaxi Driver is a 1976 American neo-noir psychological thriller drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Paul Schrader, and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris and Albert Brooks. Set in a decaying and morally bankrupt New York City following the Vietnam War, the film tells the story of Travis Bickle (De Niro), a lonely taxi driver who descends into insanity as he plots to assassinate both the presidential candidate (Harris) for whom the woman he is infatuated with (Shepherd) works, and the pimp (Keitel) of an underage prostitute (Foster) he befriends.
A critical and commercial success upon release and nominated for four Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Best Actor (for De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (for Foster), Taxi Driver won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. The film generated controversy at the time of its release for its depiction of violence and casting of a 12-year-old Foster in the role of a child prostitute.
In 2012, Sight & Sound named it the 31st-best film ever in its decennial critics' poll, ranked with The Godfather Part II, and the fifth-greatest film of all time on its directors' poll. The film was considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the US Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994.
PlotIn 1975, Travis Bickle is a lonely, depressed 26-year-old living in isolation in New York City. Travis takes a job as a night shift taxi driver to cope with his chronic insomnia, driving passengers around the city's boroughs. He frequents porn theaters and keeps a diary in which he consciously attempts to include aphorisms, such as "You're only as healthy as you feel."
Travis becomes infatuated with Betsy, a campaign volunteer for Senator and presidential candidate Charles Palantine. After watching her interact with fellow worker Tom through her window, Travis enters to volunteer as a pretext to talk to her, then takes her out for coffee.
Travis is disgusted by the sleaze, dysfunction, and prostitution that he witnesses throughout the city, and struggles to find meaning for his existence. His worldview is furthered when a child prostitute and runaway, Iris, who uses the professional name "Easy," enters his taxi, attempting to escape her pimp, Sport. Sport drags Iris from the taxi and throws Travis a crumpled $20 bill, which continually reminds Travis of her and the corruption that surrounds him.
Travis takes Betsy on a date to see a pornographic film, which offends her, and she goes home alone. His numerous attempts at reconciliation by sending flowers and apologizing over the phone are rebuffed, causing him to become embittered and convinced that she is exactly like the "cold" people he detests in the city. He finally confronts her at the campaign office, berating her before being kicked out by Tom.
One evening, an unhinged passenger gloats to Travis of his intention to kill his wife and her secret lover. Later, Travis joins fellow taxi drivers in a diner. Outside, he confides in Wizard about his "bad" thoughts, which are beginning to turn violent; Wizard assures him that he will be fine ("Don't worry so much," he says), leaving Travis to his own destructive path.
In attempting to find an outlet for his frustrations, Travis begins a program of intense physical training. A fellow taxi driver refers him to an illegal gun dealer, "Easy" Andy, from whom Travis buys four handguns. At home, Travis practices drawing his weapons, and builds a rig to allow him to hide and quickly deploy one of his guns from his sleeve. He also begins attending Palantine's rallies to study their security. One night, Travis enters a convenience store seconds before a robber enters and holds the owner at gunpoint, leading Travis to fatally shoot the robber. To help him evade arrest, the store owner, an acquaintance of Travis, takes responsibility for the deed, claiming one of Travis's guns as his own.
Travis seeks out Iris through Sport, and twice tries to convince her to stop prostituting herself, an effort which partially convinces her. After a breakfast with Iris, Travis mails her a letter containing money, imploring her to return home. Travis cuts his hair into a mohawk and attends a public rally, where he intends to assassinate Palantine. While attempting to pull out his gun, Secret Service agents notice Travis putting his hand inside his coat and chase him down. Travis, however, successfully escapes the scene.
That evening, Travis drives to Sport's brothel in the East Village. After Sport flicks a cigarette at Travis and derides him outside of the building, he shoots Sport and enters the brothel. Travis shoots the owner's fingers off before being shot in the neck by Sport, whom he fatally shoots in turn. Travis moves upstairs, pursued by the owner, where Iris's client shoots him in the shoulder; Travis kills the made man with the sleeve pistol, stabs the gangster in the hand and fatally shoots him with the made man's revolver as Iris cries out in terror. He attempts suicide with the revolver, only to find it empty; the police arrive and find a collapsed, bleeding Travis, who looks at them while pantomiming shooting himself before passing out from blood loss.
Travis is not prosecuted, but instead, he is hailed as a local hero in the press, as the criminal dealings of those in the brothel were discovered and publicized. He receives a letter from Iris's father, thanking him for saving her and revealing that she has returned home to Pittsburgh, where she is going to school. After weeks of recovery and returning to work, Travis encounters Betsy as a fare. Travis drives her home, then refuses to let her pay the fare, driving away with a smile. As Travis drives off, he becomes suddenly agitated after noticing something in his rear-view mirror.
ProductionThe film had a budget of $1.9 million.
According to Scorsese, it was Brian De Palma who introduced him to Paul Schrader. In Scorsese on Scorsese, Scorsese says Taxi Driver arose from his feeling that movies are like dreams or drug-induced reveries. He attempted to incubate within the viewer the feeling of being in a limbo state between sleeping and waking. He calls Travis an "avenging angel" floating through the streets of a New York City intended to represent all cities everywhere. Scorsese calls attention to improvisation in the film, such as in the scene between De Niro and Cybill Shepherd in the coffee shop. The director also cites Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man and Jack Hazan's A Bigger Splash as inspirations for his camerawork in the movie.
In writing the script, Schrader was inspired by the diaries of Arthur Bremer (who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972), by Jean-Paul Sartre's existential novel Nausea and John Ford's film The Searchers. The writer also used himself as inspiration; in a 1981 interview with Tom Snyder on the "Tomorrow" show, Schrader related his experience living in New York City while battling chronic insomnia, which led him to frequent pornographic bookstores and theaters because they remained open all night. Following a divorce and a breakup with a live-in girlfriend, he spent a few weeks living in his car. After visiting a hospital for a stomach ulcer, Schrader wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver in "under a fortnight," recalling that "When I was talking to the nurse, I realised I hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks ... that was when the metaphor of the taxi occurred to me. That is what I was: this person in an iron box, a coffin, floating round the city, but seemingly alone." Schrader decided to make Bickle a Vietnam vet because the national trauma of the war seemed to blend perfectly with Bickle's paranoid psychosis, making his experiences after the war more intense and threatening.
SymbolismIn Scorsese on Scorsese, Scorsese mentions the religious symbolism in the story, comparing Bickle to a saint who wants to cleanse or purge both his mind and his body of weakness. Bickle attempts to kill himself near the end of the movie as a tribute to the samurai's "death with honor" principle.
When Travis meets Betsy to join him for coffee and pie, she is reminded of a line in Kris Kristofferson's song "The Pilgrim, Chapter 33": "He's a prophet and a pusher, partly truth, partly fiction—a walking contradiction." On their date, Bickle takes her to see a Swedish "sex education" film, which is in fact the American sexploitation film Sexual Freedom in Denmark with added Swedish sound.
Taxi Driver was shot during a New York City summer heat wave and sanitation strike in 1975. The film came into conflict with the MPAA for its violence. Scorsese de-saturated the color in the final shootout, and the film got an R rating. To achieve the atmospheric scenes in Bickle's taxi, the sound men would get in the trunk and Scorsese and his cinematographer, Michael Chapman, would ensconce themselves on the back seat floor and use available light to shoot. Chapman admitted the filming style was greatly influenced by New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and his cinematographer Raoul Coutard due to the fact the crew did not have the time nor the money to do "traditional things."
When Bickle decides to assassinate Senator Palantine, he cuts his hair into a Mohawk. This detail was suggested by actor Victor Magnotta, a friend of Scorsese, who had a small role as a Secret Service agent and who had served in Vietnam. Scorsese later noted: "He told us that, in Saigon, if you saw a guy with his head shaved—like a little Mohawk—that usually meant that those people were ready to go into a certain Special Forces situation. You didn't even go near them. They were ready to kill."
De Niro's preparation for the roleWhile preparing for his role as Bickle, De Niro was filming Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 in Italy. According to Boyle, he would "finish shooting on a Friday in Rome ... get on a plane ... [and] fly to New York." De Niro obtained a taxi driver's license, and when on break would pick up a taxi and drive around New York for a couple of weeks, before returning to Rome to resume filming 1900. De Niro apparently lost 35 pounds and listened repeatedly to a taped reading of the diaries of Arthur Bremer. When he had time off from shooting 1900, De Niro visited an army base in Northern Italy and tape-recorded soldiers from the Midwestern United States, whose accents he thought might be appropriate for Travis's character.
Pre-productionScorsese brought in the film title designer Dan Perri to design the title sequence for Taxi Driver. Perri had been Scorsese's original choice to design the titles for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in 1974, but Warner Bros would not allow him to hire an unknown designer. By the time Taxi Driver was going into production, Perri had established his reputation with his work on The Exorcist, and Scorsese was now able to hire him. Perri created the opening titles for Taxi Driver using second unit footage which he color-treated through a process of film copying and slit-scan, resulting in a highly stylised graphic sequence that evoked the "underbelly" of New York City through lurid colors, glowing neon signs distorted nocturnal images and deep black levels. Perri went on to design opening titles for a number of major films after this including Star Wars (1977) and Raging Bull (1980).
New York BankruptcyShooting took place on New York City's West Side, at a time when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. According to producer Michael Phillips, "the whole West Side was bombed out. There really were row after row of condemned buildings and that's what we used to build our sets, were condemned buildings. Now it's fashionable real estate ... But New York and Times Square was shuddering and disgusting. It's just exciting to see the city bounce back and become the great place it is today from where it was then. We didn't know we were documenting what looked like the dying gasp of New York."
Taking place in an actual apartment, the tracking shot over the murder scene at the end took three months of preparation just because the production team had to cut through the ceiling in order to get it right.
MusicThe music by Bernard Herrmann was his final score before his death on December 24, 1975, and the film is dedicated to his memory. Robert Barnett of MusicWeb International has said that it contrasts deep, sleazy noises, representing the "scum" that Travis sees all over the city, with the saxophone, a musical counterpart to Travis, creating a mellifluously disenchanted troubadour, played by Tom Scott. Barnett also observes that the opposing noises in the soundtrack—gritty little harp figures, hard as shards of steel, as well as a jazz drum kit placing the drama in the city—are indicative of loneliness in the midst of mobs of people. Deep brass and woodwinds are also evident. Barnett heard in the drumbeat a wild-eyed martial air charting the pressure on Bickle, who is increasingly oppressed by the corruption around him, and that the harp, drum, and saxophone play significant roles in the music.
Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky" is also featured in the film, appearing in a scene where couples are dancing on the program American Bandstand as Travis watches on his television.
Casting of Jodie FosterSome critics showed concern over 12-year-old Foster's presence during the climactic shoot-out. Foster said that she was present during the setup and staging of the special effects used during the scene; the entire process was explained and demonstrated for her, step by step. Moreover, Foster said, she was fascinated and entertained by the behind-the-scenes preparation that went into the scene. In addition, before being given the part, Foster was subjected to psychological testing, attending sessions with a UCLA psychiatrist, to ensure that she would not be emotionally scarred by her role, in accordance with California Labor Board requirements monitoring children's welfare on film sets.
Copies of the film distributed for TV broadcast had an unexplained disclaimer added during the closing credits:
Additional concerns surrounding Foster's age focus on the role she played as Iris, a prostitute. Years later she confessed how uncomfortable the treatment of her character was on set. Scorsese did not know how to approach different scenes with the actress. The director relied on Robert De Niro to deliver his directions to the young actress. Foster often expressed how De Niro, in that moment, became a mentor to her, stating that her acting career was highly influenced by the actor's advice during the filming of Taxi Driver.
John Hinckley Jr.Taxi Driver formed part of the delusional fantasy of John Hinckley Jr. that triggered his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, an act for which he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Hinckley stated that his actions were an attempt to impress Foster, on whom Hinckley was fixated, by mimicking Travis's mohawked appearance at the Palantine rally. His attorney concluded his defense by playing the movie for the jury. When Scorsese heard about Hinckley's motivation behind his assassination attempt, he temporarily thought about quitting film-making as the association brought a negative perception of the film.
R ratingThe climactic shoot-out was considered intensely graphic by a few critics, considering an X-rating for the film. To attain an "R" rating, Scorsese had the colors de-saturated, making the brightly colored blood less prominent. In later interviews, Scorsese commented that he was pleased by the color change and considered it an improvement over the originally filmed scene. In the special-edition DVD, Michael Chapman, the film's cinematographer, regrets the decision and the fact that no print with the unmuted colors exists anymore, as the originals had long since deteriorated.
Themes and interpretationsRoger Ebert has written of the film's ending:
There has been much discussion about the ending, in which we see newspaper clippings about Travis's "heroism" of saving Iris, and then Betsy gets into his cab and seems to give him admiration instead of her earlier disgust. Is this a fantasy scene? Did Travis survive the shoot-out? Are we experiencing his dying thoughts? Can the sequence be accepted as literally true? ... I am not sure there can be an answer to these questions. The end sequence plays like music, not drama: It completes the story on an emotional, not a literal, level. We end not on carnage but on redemption, which is the goal of so many of Scorsese's characters.
James Berardinelli, in his review of the film, argues against the dream or fantasy interpretation, stating:
Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader append the perfect conclusion to Taxi Driver. Steeped in irony, the five-minute epilogue underscores the vagaries of fate. The media builds Bickle into a hero, when, had he been a little quicker drawing his gun against Senator Palantine, he would have been reviled as an assassin. As the film closes, the misanthrope has been embraced as the model citizen—someone who takes on pimps, drug dealers, and mobsters to save one little girl.
On the LaserDisc audio commentary, Scorsese acknowledged several critics' interpretation of the film's ending as being Bickle's dying dream. He admits that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object implies that Bickle might fall into rage and recklessness in the future, and he is like "a ticking time bomb". Writer Paul Schrader confirms this in his commentary on the 30th-anniversary DVD, stating that Travis "is not cured by the movie's end", and that "he's not going to be a hero next time." When asked on the website Reddit about the film's ending, Schrader said that it was not to be taken as a dream sequence, but that he envisioned it as returning to the beginning of the film—as if the last frame "could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie started all over again."
The film has also been connected with the 1970s wave of vigilante films and has been noted as a more respectable New Hollywood counterpart to the numerous exploitation vigilante films of the decade. However, despite similarities between Taxi Driver and the vigilante films of the 1970s, the film has also been explicitly distinguished as not being a vigilante film or not belonging to the 1970s vigilante film wave.
The film can be viewed as a spiritual successor to The Searchers. As Roger Ebert pointed out, both films center on a lonely war veteran who attempts to rescue a young girl who does not want to be saved. Both also portray the main character as someone who is alienated from society and who cannot establish normal relationships with people. It is not clear whether Paul Schrader looked for this film specifically for inspiration, but the similarities are apparent.
Some critics have described the film as "neo-noir". It has also been referred to as an antihero film.
Box officeThe film opened at the Coronet Theater in New York City and grossed a house record $68,000 in its first week. It went on to gross $28.3 million in the United States, making it the 17th-highest-grossing film of 1976.
Critical responseRoger Ebert instantly praised it as one of the greatest films he had ever seen, claiming:
Taxi Driver is a hell, from the opening shot of a cab emerging from stygian clouds of steam to the climactic killing scene in which the camera finally looks straight down. Scorsese wanted to look away from Travis's rejection; we almost want to look away from his life. But he's there, all right, and he's suffering.
It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (De Niro), and received the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. It has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. The film was chosen by Time as one of the 100 best films of all time.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 95% based on reviews from 88 critics with an average rating of 9.05/10; the site's consensus states: "A must-see film for movie lovers, this Martin Scorsese masterpiece is as hard-hitting as it is compelling, with Robert De Niro at his best." Metacritic gives the film a score of 94 out of 100, based on reviews from 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
The July/August 2009 issue of Film Comment polled several critics on the best films to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Taxi Driver placed first, above films such as Il Gattopardo, Viridiana, Blowup, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, La Dolce Vita, and Pulp Fiction.
Taxi Driver was ranked by the American Film Institute as the 52nd-greatest American film on its AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) list, and Bickle was voted the 30th greatest villain in a poll by the same organization. Empire also ranked him 18th in its "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters" poll, and the film ranks at No. 17 on the magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.
Time Out magazine conducted a poll of the 100 greatest movies set in New York City. Taxi Driver topped the list placing at No. 1.
Schrader's screenplay for the film was ranked the 43rd greatest ever written by the Writers Guild of America.
By contrast, Leonard Maltin gave a rating of only 2 stars and called the film a "gory, cold-blooded story of sick man's lurid descent into violence" which was "ugly and unredeeming".
AccoladesAFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains – #30 Villain – Travis Bickle
National Film Registry – Inducted in 1994.
LegacyTaxi Driver, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, and The Walker make up a series referred to variously as the "Man in a Room" or "Night Worker" films. Screenwriter Paul Schrader (who directed the latter three films) has said that he considers the central characters of the four films to be one character, who has changed as he has aged. The film also influenced the Charles Winkler film You Talkin' to Me?
The 1994 portrayal of psychopath Albie Kinsella by Robert Carlyle in British television series Cracker was in part inspired by Travis Bickle, and Carlyle's performance has frequently been compared to De Niro's as a result.
In the 2012 film Seven Psychopaths, psychotic Los Angeles actor Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) believes himself to be the illegitimate son of Travis Bickle.
The vigilante ending inspired Jacques Audiard for his 2015 Palme d'Or-winning film Dheepan. The French director based the eponymous Tamil Tiger character on the one played by Robert De Niro in order to make him a "real movie hero". The script of Joker by Todd Phillips, draws inspiration from Taxi Driver.
"You talkin' to me?"De Niro's "You talkin' to me?" speech has become a pop culture mainstay. In 2005, it was ranked number 10 on the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.
In the relevant scene, the deranged Bickle is looking into a mirror at himself, imagining a confrontation that would give him a chance to draw his gun:
"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talking to?"
Scorsese said that he drew inspiration from John Huston's 1967 movie Reflections in a Golden Eye in a scene in which Marlon Brando's character is facing the mirror.
Screenwriter Paul Schrader does not take credit for the line, saying that his script only read "Travis speaks to himself in the mirror", and that De Niro improvised the dialogue. However, he went on to say that De Niro's performance was inspired by "an underground New York comedian" he had once seen, possibly including his signature line.
Roger Ebert said of the latter part of the phrase "I'm the only one here" that it was "the truest line in the film.... Travis Bickle's desperate need to make some kind of contact somehow—to share or mimic the effortless social interaction he sees all around him, but does not participate in."
In his 2009 memoir, saxophonist Clarence Clemons said that De Niro explained the line's origins when Clemons coached De Niro to play the saxophone for the 1977 film New York, New York. Clemons said that De Niro had seen Bruce Springsteen say the line onstage at a concert as fans were screaming his name, and decided to make the line his own.
De Niro repeated the monologue (with some alterations) as Fearless Leader in the 2000 film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
The first Collector's Edition DVD, released in 1999, was packaged as a single-disc edition release. It contained special features, such as behind-the-scenes and several trailers, including one for Taxi Driver.
In 2006, a 30th-anniversary 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD was released. The first disc contains the film itself, two audio commentaries (one by writer Schrader and the other by Professor Robert Kolker), and trailers. This edition also retains some of the special features from the earlier release on the second disc, as well as some newly produced documentary material.
A Blu-ray was released on April 5, 2011, to commemorate the film's 35th anniversary. It includes the special features from the previous 2-disc collector's edition, plus an audio commentary by Scorsese released in 1991 for the Criterion Collection, previously released on Laserdisc.
As part of the Blu-ray production, Sony gave the film a full 4K digital restoration, which included scanning and cleaning the original negative (removing emulsion dirt and scratches). Colors were matched to director-approved prints under guidance from Scorsese and director of photography Michael Chapman. An all-new lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack was also made from the original stereo recordings by Scorsese's personal sound team. The restored print premiered in February 2011 at the Berlin Film Festival, and to promote the Blu-ray, Sony also had the print screened at AMC Theatres across the United States on March 19 and 22.
Possible sequel and remakeIn late January 2005, a sequel was announced by De Niro and Scorsese. At a 25th-anniversary screening of Raging Bull, De Niro talked about the story of an older Travis Bickle being in development. Also in 2000, De Niro mentioned interest in bringing back the character in conversation with Actors Studio host James Lipton. In November 2013, he revealed that Schrader had done a first draft but both he and Scorsese thought that it was not good enough to go beyond.
In 2010, Variety reported rumors that Lars von Trier, Scorsese, and De Niro planned to work on a remake of the film with the same restrictions that were used in The Five Obstructions. In 2014, Paul Schrader said that it was not being made. He said, "It was a terrible idea" and "in Marty's mind, it never was something that should be done."