This was the first film I’ve seen that is part of Robert DeNiro’s early filmography, and I sort of understand what all the fuss is about now. It was definitely a Scorsese film, with all the carefully orchestrated angles and simple lines that held much weight and meaning behind them. But honestly, this film wasn’t nearly as “psycho” as I expected it to be. Whenever I’d heard Taxi Driver referenced prior to viewing the film, people would always talk of the crazy person DeNiro played. I suppose after watching and reading an abundance of Hannibal Lecter, and then reading books with characters like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, I was expecting Travis Bickle to be one out-of-his-mind taxi driver.
I was surprised to see Bickle have a much more gradual descent into his own psychosis. Unlike the other novels and film we’ve experienced for this course so far, I’m hesitant to label Taxi Driver as a psycho horror film in any way. Not that surprising, considering Scorsese’s other work. When he delves into genre (not very often), it never quite feels like genre. He captures more of reality than anything else (although I’ve never seen Hugo). I took Bickle as a dramatic example of the aftereffects of war. Obviously not all veterans end up at the extreme that Bickle does, but it was important that they portray some of the possibilities.
For the first section of the film, and most of the rest of it to be honest, I was waiting for that one dramatic moment when he would either crack or say something that would have me invested in him as a psycho. But that feeling I was waiting for never actually came. There were moments, like when he buys the guns and creates scenarios and inventions for them, when you knew he was beginning to spiral into a psychotic break, but I didn’t think that necessarily make him a psycho. For me, no matter what Travis got himself into, I could see him coming out of the situation at the end and finding the ability to improve (with the miracle of modern therapy, of course). With the other psychos we’ve had, I never really had actual hope for them. Travis was far more sympathetic. The difference seems to be, at least to me, is that Travis’s psychosis was caused by fighting in Vietnam as an adult. Characters like Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates were affected by circumstances that happened very early on in their life, when they were extremely impressionable.
There’s also the point that Bickle seems to want to play some sort of hero in the end. This could simply be an excuse he uses to kill people, as he’s been wanting to, but I took it as him knowing he was going to crack and having the little self-control left to use it for someone who he believed could benefit from it, that person being Iris. The fact that he had enough sanity left in his brain to differentiate between those things is what made me believe that he wasn’t truly a psycho.