"Dispelling myths about Vietnam veterans." USA Today 16 November 2000: A1
Like the title suggests, this article concentrates on going over and dispelling some of the myths that are associated with the Vietnam veteran. For generations, the American public has been bombarded by Hollywood and the media with the same image of the demoralized Vietnam War veteran; much like Travis Bickle is in Taxi Driver. The negative stereotypes surrounding the Vietnam War veteran have been ingrained into the minds of the masses, and usually portray a social outcast who has been physically and psychologically damaged in the war. The article points out that many of the Vietnam soldiers Americans have come to know through movies such as The Deer Hunter, Coming Home and Taxi Driver perpetuate the suicidal, anarchist, angry, and depressed depiction of the veteran. On the contrary, the article suggests that these stereotypes are myths and most veterans are happy, stable, and successful. Some other myths the article dismisses are that 100,000 Vietnam vets committed suicide and that up to 50% have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although this article does not discuss Taxi Driver whatsoever, it’s relevant to the film because it stresses the negative stereotypes, which have been so deeply embedded into the consciousness of the public, associated with Vietnam veterans, such as Travis Bickle is in Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle is exactly the type of character which perpetuates the myths corresponding to veterans into the psyche of the American people and the type of person this article attempts to dispel as being untrue. He is angry, suicidal, lonely, and alienated from urban society. Whether we can hypothesize that all of Travis’ problems are a direct result of the Vietnam War is not clear, however him being a veteran is pertinent to the film. As the article asserts that most stereotypical Vietnam veterans oppose their country and its leaders, which is another myth, Travis directs his frustrated anger at a promising presidential candidate in an apparent assassination attempt.
Many of Travis’ emotions in Taxi Driver, such as feelings of rejection, resentment for society, and cynicism towards politicians, are reflective of the fictitious stereotypes of the veteran’s talked about in this article. This article places a character such as Travis Bickle into the realm of fiction, away from society and reality, which is exactly where he belongs.
Rollins, Peter C. “The Vietnam War: Perceptions Through Literature, Film, and Television.” American Quarterly. (1984). JSTOR. Oklahoma State University. University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 31 Mar. 2006. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0678%281984%2936%3A3%3C419%3ATVWPTL%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Q.
This article discusses how literature, film, and television have interpreted the Vietnam War. The article argues that artists have struggled to create convincing metaphors for the war and its effects in their works, and because of the nature of the content these works have been very controversial.
The article begins by exploring the different ways in which novelists have explored the themes of the war. Many of the writers, writing from the point of view of soldiers, chose to focus on the theme of loss of innocence.
Next, the article discusses how filmmakers have interpreted the Vietnam War. Here, the article mentions The Deer Hunter. The article argues that this film is probably the most ambitious of the Vietnam films in its attempt to discuss themes of American life, but criticizes it for losing its focus at times. The themes the film attempts to explore, according to the article, are sexual and ethnic identity, the individual versus society, and civilization versus nature. The article explains that the film reaches no real conclusion about any of these issues; instead, it remains ambivalent, echoing the opinions of many Americans on such subjects.
The article concludes by exploring how television has explored the Vietnam War, examining news casts, documentaries, and propaganda. It discusses the role of Vietnam as the first “television war,” and examines how the use of television affected how Americans perceived the war and America’s role in it.
By examining the different ways each medium has treated the issue of the Vietnam War, the article concludes with a call to researchers and scholars to examine these differences and to find connections between the different interpretations.
Clapp’s subject here is urbanization, and how film has become perhaps the primary medium by which the problems of urbanization are expressed. As human communities grow larger and larger, Clapp argues, people cease to be part of meaningful communities, and instead become “strangers.” New York is the token in this respect, being larger, faster paced, and more diverse than most other cities. As such, it has become the main cinematic setting for depicting urban alienation. For Clapp, Travis Bickle’s line “Are you talkin’ to me?” concisely sums up this alienation, wrapped in suspicion and cynicism that could only grow in the total absence of community.
This perspective contains a more sociological spin on the themes present in Taxi Driver, though it does not spend much time examining that film in particular. Clapp provides a paradigm by which the nebulous identification which the audience feels for Travis may be reasonably explained. Applying his view, the specific historical context of Vietnam and 1970’s political turmoil is only part of the picture in understanding Taxi Driver. When the City itself is seen as a character in its own right, it becomes apparent that the audience identifies with Travis because they have a similar relationship to the giant, impersonal metropolis.
“Weak” violence, on the other hand, “thrives on sterile contradiction: it reduces bloodshed to its barest components, then inflates them with hot, stylized air.” McKinney sees this type of violent imagery everywhere in contemporary filmmaking, as a reflexive response to increasingly visible violence in the global community. It can be consumed without thought, repeatedly, never eliciting a new response, never “outlasting its moment.”
The value of McKinney’s division is that it allows the carnage of a film like Taxi Driver to be understood outside of a moralizing condescension. This is violence with a purpose, which shocks not for shock’s sake but to arouse a tangle of questions in the minds of the audience. Taxi Driver calls attention to the sometimes arbitrary division between what is justifiable and what is senseless, and its visceral exploration of this ambiguity is precisely what McKinney means by “strong violence.”
While in Katzman’s view Taxi Driver reinforces negative stereotypes of the Vietnam veteran, he feels its conclusion introduces an important ambiguity. Where other writers see a simple lack of closure in the film’s conclusion, Katzman argues that Travis’s choice of violent action relates to America’s decision to go to war: his failed attempt at assassinating the senator is the “wrong war at the wrong time,” like Vietnam, but that Travis’s triumph is in finding the “right war at the right time,” by setting Iris free. On the one hand, this is a reinforcement of the stereotype that the veteran only knows how to be violent, but on the other, it gives the audience reason for pause – in this case, the only thing that distinguishes hero from monster is a slight change of context. Thus, perhaps the veteran as portrayed in the character of Travis may be seen as worthy of some grace.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.S39 G75 2000
Chapter on Taxi Driver pp. 123-157
Grist breaks down his critical analysis of Taxi Driver into loosely related sections, in a chronological retelling of the film’s major plot points. While not a strict scene-by-scene analysis, it covers most of the major themes and all of the major characters in the narrative, relating them to their film antecedents and not so much to political or historical context. In terms of genre, though in many ways Taxi Driver can be seen as an urban western, Grist feels that it applies a “disabling generic revision” and is in many ways an example of New Hollywood Cinema. Grist points out that Taxi Driver can be read as a direct response to Death Wish as well.
Also, Taxi Driver is a product of two auteurs (Scorsese and Schrader) who often draw from personal experience when making films. In Schrader’s case, there is an obvious connection between Taxi Driver and his essay “Notes on Film Noir,” but Grist also points to Schrader’s writings on the Transcendental style of Ozu and Bresson as being equally connected with Taxi Driver.
Overall, Grist sees the film as a relentlessly bleak reading of American life in the 1970’s, appropriating themes from films before it to create a vision of a society gone horrible wrong (as evidenced by Travis’s slipping through the cracks of the social structure). It sets up a dichotomy between willfully naïve idealism and smug cynicism that is uncomfortable, especially as it provides no closure for the audience.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.S39 F75 1997
Lawrence Friedman treats Travis Bickle as the archetypal antihero of all of Scorsese’s films, and looks at and incredibly broad range of literature to find the roots of his character. For Friedman, Travis “embodies the dictum of Marlow, the narrator of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: ‘We live, as we dream—alone.’” Friedman’s premise is that Travis must see his loneliness as evidence of a “God-ordained” singularity, so that he is the “avenging angel” on a mission to purge “Sodom and Gomorrah” (i.e. New York City) of its darkness. Thus, his loneliness transforms from a liability into a “holy calling.” Friedman argues that this would not be so unsettling if it were treated as aberrant, a case study in “abnormal psychology.” Rather, it is the commonality of loneliness that makes Travis’s state, though extreme, all too familiar.
Friedman echoes other authors in this respect, but in particular his analysis carries the audience’s identification a step further: the “walking contradiction,” as Betsy puts it, is that Travis is “one of us” through and through, though that is precisely what he struggles to feel – like he belongs to a larger whole. The implication here is truly paranoia-inducing: none of us belong, or to echo the sentiments of Conrad’s Marlow, we are doomed alienation, and must settle for comforting illusion. For Travis, that illusion comes in the form of heroic fantasies. The only real difference between him and us is that he has the courage to act them out. Furthermore, Travis’s success frighteningly suggests that violence may be the only real solution to societal ills. In Friedman’s view, his character is essentially engaged in the Hamlet-esque struggle of “to be or not to be:” whether to suffer or take arms against the sea of troubles.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.S39 M55 2004
This text deals extensively with Scorsese’s portrayal of masculinity and male sexuality throughout many of his films – specifically in Taxi Driver, it points to Travis Bickle’s rejection by the virginal Betsy as a major trigger in his descent into madness. Miliora focuses extensively on Travis’s perception of Betsy as a kind of savior from the filth that surrounds him, a pure figure who can help Travis to “become a person” if he can have intimacy with her. Yet precisely because he has not yet become “a person,” he is unable to communicate and is rejected.
Once rejected, Travis’s perception of her shifts such that she is no longer perceived as being “clean” like him, but “scum” just like everyone else. Miliora points to Betsy as a quintessential figure in Scorsese’s oft-used “Madonna-whore complex,” who becomes filthy in Travis’s mind after she rejects him. His response is to become a kind of redeemer-messiah figure, trying to save an actual whore, Iris, by violently delivering her from her prostitution. Though this attempt is obviously misguided and pathological, it inadvertently gets Travis what he wants. At the end, when he sees Betsy again, he is able to reject her because he no longer needs her.
In Miliora’s analysis, Travis is an archetypal figure in Scorsese’s treatment of gender relations, providing a blueprint for many of his later characters, all of whom are informed by a kind of “failed masculinity” that rose to the public consciousness following the return of the armed forces from Vietnam. This is probably one of the better texts on the gender issues side of Scorsese’s films generally, particularly as it applies to the post-Vietnam sense of alienation that figures so prominently in Taxi Driver.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.S39 A3 1989
Scorsese talks about the details of production and how he ended up working with Paul Schrader on Taxi Driver. Some of the original storyboards for the film are included. Scorsese also tells that the inspiration behind much of the visual loneliness in Taxi Driver is from his experience growing up in New York – how his personal experiences had a dreamlike quality to them, which he wanted to capture in the film. Yet this “dreaminess” is for Scorsese not a positive quality, but connotes disease and decay, which become Travis Bickle’s triggers first for uneasiness, then for violence. He is Scorsese’s own “avenging angel” fantasy, come to rid the streets of scum and riffraff.
Speaking of the general sense of paranoia Travis experiences, Scorsese directly credits Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man as a source of formal inspiration. He also claims that there is no boundary between reality and fantasy in terms of how they are treated in film, and that applying this principle forcefully in Taxi Driver is what gives Travis’s insanity credibility. He also credits John Ford’s The Searchers with providing a model for the post-war male who cannot find a place to belong.
Scorsese confirms the prevailing attitudes about the film centering on loneliness and its consequences, but says little about the cultural context of its narrative. He views the film in a very personal way, identifying with Travis’s loneliness, and expecting the audience to feel likewise, such that when the violent act comes at the end, there is both attraction and revulsion. Catharsis is needed, but when its form is realized, it becomes sickening and ironic, no better than the problems it sought to solve.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.S39 N93 2004
Travis Bickle is a time bomb, but Nyce asserts that “our criminal excesses grow out of our normality.” Travis’s normality is clear in his desire for a normal life, and in Nyce’s opinion, it is his extreme naïveté that prevents him from fulfilling this desire. From this inability to grow up sprouts an “extremely distorted idealism” that leads Travis to feel powerless, awash in anxiety and a “guilty conscience.” For Nyce, the locus of the film is the growing obsession to expunge the conscience of all that Travis has seen and been part of; the “scum in the streets” becomes the scum in his mind. As the narrative progresses, the protagonist ironically becomes both more pathological and more naïve.
Nyce calls attention to Scorsese’s use of subjective, expressionist camera-work as a means of communicating Travis’s perceptions of the world around him – there is very little that is “healthy and life-enhancing” within view. The sights and sounds passing by in the taxi’s window are intrusive sources of anxiety and guilt. Many seemingly straightforward point-of-view shots are in fact explorations of Travis’s inner turmoil, which grows until he cannot contain it any longer.
In Nyce’s view, the ultimate expression of rage at the end of the film is simply the culmination of Travis’s failure at communication. Similar to other writers who see Taxi Driver as being more generally about the state of community in America in the 60’s and 70’s, Nyce is indeed concerned with the film’s depiction of alienation between people – but beyond that, the disjunction here is specifically one of cultural vocabulary. Travis cannot speak the “common language” as it were, so he cannot “be like other people” as he wishes to be. This is ultimately what drives him to a breaking point, where he can only self-determine by lashing out.
Connelly calls Taxi Driver a “variant of film-noir,” pointing out the sense of powerlessness against “corrupt universe,” yet in this case the primary source of tension is internal to the protagonist. In this way the film taps into the social paranoia of the post-Vietnam era, when people “ceased to be shocked” but were still anxious and afraid. Travis Bickle finds release for this anxiety by trying to be a hero: he fantasizes, gets ready to “clean up the city” and develops a new aggression – yet targets a politician first, showing himself to be delusional. Ironically, ends up a hero by fluke of circumstances.
In Connelly’s opinion, Taxi Driver is primarily an exploration of loneliness – it calls attention to the importance of community by its very absence. Superficially the audience cannot relate to Travis, yet upon closer inspection, his pathology is just “an extreme form” of a common state of alienation. He is powerless on all fronts, inept and alone, because he has no purpose. When he creates a purpose, it is not for the common good, as he has no sense of community, but instead meant to eliminate the sources of fear in his surroundings.
Stylistically speaking, Taubin thinks of Taxi Driver as being written after the austere manner of John Ford’s The Searchers, yet shot and directed (by Scorsese) in an expressionist style. Taxi Driver borrows heavily from the French New Wave as well. Taubin also points out that many elements hark back to film-noir: not just the moody low-key lighting and jazz-influenced score, but especially Bickle as the loner anti-hero.
Still, as this anti-hero, Bickle finds no closure in his search for meaning. Even after the bloodbath at the end, Bickle never reaches the orgasm he seeks – which for him can only be death – and therefore fails to bring meaning to his existence. In Taubin’s opinion, this failure encapsulates the manifold failures of culture and politics in America during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, made in 1979, tells the tale of a rogue Green Beret during the Vietnam War and the measures Captain Willard (Sheen) takes to stop him. The film is heavily based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness.