Fagelson, William F. "Fighting Films: The Everyday Tactics of World War II Soldiers." Cinema Journal Vol 40. No. 3, (2001): 94-112.
Fagelson looks at the feeling of alienation from home felt by World War II American soldiers. Soldiers, in an attempt to "keep in touch" with the home front, would watch the popular flicks. However, as they saw the film, they pinpointed Hollywood as a source of the home front's inaccurate understanding of the war and of able-bodied men who remained safely at home (and misrepresented them in film). Additionally, film's portrayal of promiscuous women ignited fears of infidelity and portrayal of idle able-bodied men created resentment of civilians whom soldiers perceived as doing nothing in the war.
The article emphasizes how soldiers were skeptical of Hollywood films. However, cartoons were an alternate source of propaganda, which WWII soldiers would have been familiar with since they had grown up with it. It is important to understand the mentality that was united against what was perceived as a disingenuous portrayal of war. Despite being preyed on by films, soldiers continued to watch films, but actively challenged the themes. Cartoons portrayed the "fun" side of patriotism and used parody to tone-down the same propaganda elements available through cinema.
"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.
This article basically talks about Martin Scorsese and his portrayal and direction of New York City on film. Not limiting itself to just Taxi Driver, the article discusses a number of Martin Scorsese movies which are all based in New York City, such as: the aforementioned Taxi Driver (1976), New York New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), New York Stories (1989), Goodfellas (1990), and The Age of Innocence (1993). Through his cinematic brilliance, Martin Scorsese effectively captures the relentless energy and the bold grittiness of the city, making him the archetypal New York City director.
According to the author, Scorsese is the master of the big city movie and his vision in presenting New York to people all over the world is unparalleled. The author also points out that Scorsese has appeared in most of his films, including Taxi Driver, in which he plays one of Travis Bickle’s passengers who wants to shoot his wife with a .44 magnum.
Although this article does not specifically mention Taxi Driver with great detail, it brings attention to an otherwise overlooked element of the film: Scorsese’s use of New York City as the setting for Taxi Driver functions as an unnoticed, albeit essential supporting role in the movie. If it could, the setting of the film should get its own credit in the cast of characters for Taxi Driver. The movie would not be the same if it wasn’t filmed in New York, for the city enhances Taxi Driver’s dark and murky atmosphere and provides the perfect backdrop for Travis Bickle’s loneliness and alienation. Starting with the opening hazy shot of a steaming sewer underneath a yellow checkered cab to scenes of porno theaters, looting junkies, and corrupt pimps, and even if the movie did not mention the city at all, any average viewer would recognize that the film had to be made in New York City just by the ambiance and vibe it projects, which Scorsese manages to luminously and cleverly capture for the screen. The aura of New York City lurks in the background of every scene and shot in Taxi Driver, sort of playing the role of the ultimate supporting character, giving the film its distinct look and feel. Can you think of a better and more fitting location for this film? I sure can’t.
Additionally, in a city that’s famous for its diversity, heterogeneous social worlds and distinct boroughs it’s plain to see how one distressed veteran, such as Travis Bickle, can get so alienated and estranged from society that he turns to violence to fight the corrupt moral decay of the city.
Graham, Don. “High Noon.” Western Movies. Eds. William T. Pilkington and Don Graham. Albuquerque: U. of New Mexico Press, 1979. 51-62.
In his essay, Graham begins first with a reaction to the relative lack of critical respect given to High Noon, and continues on to critique a number of interpretations of the film. While accepting the validity of the HUAC interpretation, Graham believes the film remains effective, even after audiences can no longer relate to any early-50s political messages, because of the depth of emotion and the heroism shown by Gary Cooper’s Will Kane. Even though Graham casually mentions the HUAC and thereafter ignores it, he still manages to touch on the general issues raised by Carl Foreman in his provocative script. Graham focuses on two issues that are enduring enough to appeal to an audience unfamiliar with 1950s politics: the “hypocritical community” and “the issue of transfer of authority from one generation to another” (57).
The former issue is much more directly related to the HUAC, although Graham chooses not to emphasize that aspect. Still, the way in which “High Noon mocks and derides the mask of complacent morality” worn by the townspeople is a clear attack on society (56). It takes little imagination to apply the idea of hypocrisy and false morality to the situation of the fervent anti-Communists and those who stood idly by. The idea of a generation gap, manifested in films of the era such as 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, is only part of a tumultuous social climate that also included the HUAC hearings. Even though the generation gap might be a secondary conflict to the HUAC interpretation, which pervades the film, it still adds to the level of crisis and stress facing both Kane, standing in Foreman’s place, and the townspeople who represent the apathetic American public. Graham’s essay chooses to minimize the HUAC interpretation, but his emphasis on how High Noon revealed social conflicts in America directly relates to the flawed society in which such persecution could occur.
Loy, R. Philip. “Friendly Neighbors All Around.” Westerns and American Culture, 1930-1955. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001. 121-151.
In his essay, Loy focuses primarily on the B westerns which typically define the genre, and as stated in his title, these westerns generally present a positive view of the community, with High Noon as “a dramatic departure from the typical B western” (126). As many sources emphasize, the townspeople in westerns were generally marginalized, with the plot focusing mainly on the hero and villain. While accepting this viewpoint, Loy brings up multiple instances of when towns band together, especially in the form of “community associations” (127), which were essentially posses. Although Loy emphasizes how B westerns focused on community, he still acknowledges that “bigger-budget westerns [High Noon included]… were films most likely to focus on the individualist aspect of American beliefs” (148).
Notably, although the townspeople now refuse to stand behind Kane, when Frank Miller was first arrested five years before, it was by Kane along with a large posse, implying a shift in the town’s attitude. It is hardly a stretch of the imagination to think back little over five years before High Noon was released to WWII, which represents for many the pinnacle of American unity. Foreman could therefore be drawing a contrast to a previous stand against fascism and oppression five years before, but a current unwillingness by the townspeople, and implicitly the American people, to stand against a new injustice. By showing how typical westerns featured a supportive town, Loy’s essay brings the townspeople’s cowardly behavior into even starker relief. At the same time, the individualist attitudes of bigger-budget westerns allow for the independence and non-conformist attitude displayed by Kane. Therefore, it is only Kane’s “big-budget” individualism that allows him to overcome the constraints of the unsupportive community.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism.” Existentialism and Human Emotions. Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York: Philosophical Library, 1957. 9-51.
Although not one of Sartre’s best-known works, Existentialism and Human Emotions presents a clear summary of his beliefs, written in the form of a response to critics. What Sartre emphasizes, and what is of great relevance to High Noon, is the notion of Existentialism as leading to a need for individual responsibility. Like High Noon, the doctrine of Existentialism is a product of a post-WWII world, and both deal with the question of how the individual should act in the face of apparent solitude, be it the absence of god for Existentialism or the absence of community for High Noon. For Sartre, the key aspect of Existentialism is the idea that “existence precedes essence” (13). This essentially means that, since there is no god or preconceived morality, it is up to the individual to define oneself through one’s actions. Sartre extends this self-determination not just to the individual, but also to all of humanity – or, “I am responsible for myself and for everyone else” (18). This responsibility brings a great deal of “anguish,” as Sartre calls it, in the sense that one has to consciously realize that every action influences everyone else.
This postwar idea of individual responsibility for the collective whole is a constant theme in High Noon. Anguish especially stands out in this film, and the scene of Kane collapsing in exhaustion and dismay upon his desk is rarely paralleled in more conventional westerns of the time. Many in the town refuse to help Kane, and some townspeople in the church retort that Miller is Kane’s own problem. Kane’s actions, of course, are not just about him, since his choices also determine the town’s future. High Noon is a call to action, saying essentially that even those not under investigation by the HUAC still need to stand against it. What makes Kane a hero are not his moments of anguish, which are unprecedented in more straightforward westerns, but his actions. Sartre argues that heroes are not born heroes, but “the hero makes himself heroic” through his choices, which Kane clearly does in the face of the town’s opposition (35).
Camus, Albert. “Part One.” The Plague. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Vintage International, 1991. 1-63.
Unlike the other sources, The Plague, as a work of fiction, never explicitly states Camus’s viewpoints. However, the actions of the narrator, Dr. Rieux, show a sensibility along the lines of Camus’s fellow Existentialist Sartre. The Plague documents an outbreak of the plague in the Algerian town of Oran, and the subsequent actions of the townspeople. Camus portrays a number of different reactions, from individualism to altruism, as a way of characterizing the human response to death. Of the various approaches, that of Rieux is portrayed most favorably, since those on the extremes of individualism or altruism died, but Rieux’s middle path saw him through the crisis while still helping others. In this way, Rieux echoes Sartre’s belief of “in choosing myself, I choose man” (Sartre, 18).
Rieux is the embodiment of the existentialist ideal, the man who defines himself through action, and therefore mirrors Kane in many ways. Kane is not an idealized hero; he struggles with his decision to stay, but ultimately feels that it is his duty. Even so, he tries not to be reckless, and confronts Miller and his gang alone as a last resort. Rieux, like Kane, faced opposition, both in the form of an abstract threat such as a villain or plague, but also from the people who can help, such as Rieux’s fellow doctors and Oran’s prefect. Similarly, Foreman found himself gradually abandoned by those near him as the blacklist took effect, since even his closest partners dared not to risk the HUAC’s wrath, and that of the studios. Oran’s doctors and prefect refrain from declaring a state of emergency for some time, despite Rieux’s protestations, which mirrors in many ways the townspeople who choose to downplay Miller’s return. Rieux, Kane, and Foreman are duty-and-honor-bound to act, and in the mode of the Existentialist hero, prove their mettle through action during a difficult situation instead of passivity.
Drummond, Phillip. “Meanings.” High Noon. London: British Film Institute, 1997. 63-81.
Drummond’s chapter on the meanings of High Noon has 5 sections, but only two are particularly relevant to the argument: “Social Allegories” and “Sexual Politics.” Rather than taking his own stances, Drummond compiles the thoughts of other critics of High Noon in his essay. “Social Allegories” therefore features a number of critics’ viewpoints, most of whom analyze the film “less as a contribution to the western genre than in its meaning as a film about the post-war years, as a drama about American society in its national and international relationships” (69). Although the HUAC is never mentioned, Drummond includes views regarding High Noon as a metaphor for domestic left-right conflicts, US-Communist relations (especially regarding Korea), and politician’s foreign policies. “Sexual Politics” also includes other critics’ views, which emphasize the idea of masculinity and Kane’s individualism.
Despite the omission of the HUAC connection, “Social Allegories” still has relevance as part of High Noon’s commentary on postwar America as a whole, since the HUAC was only an example of the general anti-communist paranoia gripping America at the time. Critics saw that “High Noon denounces notions of consensus,” which emphasizes how the film attacked the community as a monolithic, passive bloc. “Sexual Politics” focuses on how High Noon portrays the men of the town as alternatively craven, fearful, and generally not fitting in with the brave, masculine male of the stereotypical western. By portraying the townspeople as cowardly, Foreman shows his clear contempt for those in Hollywood who sided with the HUAC or refused to oppose it out of fear of damage to their careers. Kane, too, is hardly the classic masculine hero, but his mental trials serve to increase the sense of pathos in the film, and helps provide an on-screen representation of the anguish that Foreman surely felt before testifying before the HUAC.
Nussbaum, Martin. “Sociological Symbolism of the ‘Adult Western.’” Social Forces. (May 1961). JSOTR. University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 6 April 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/view/2573570> 25-29.
Nussbaum’s 1960 article deals with the “adult western,” which Nussbaum defines as an “art form that expresses the emotions, fears, inadequacies and psychoses of modern man” (25). Nussbaum first looks at a number of reasons why, of all possible film genres, it is the western which best addresses the issues facing society. Nussbaum lists six main reasons, but in general the western manages to give the city-dwelling “modern man” a release from the cramped city and his structured life. Most important for Nussbaum is the idea of the “adult western” as part of “a revolt again rationalism and reason” (28). The western, especially the moralistic sort, such as High Noon, serves both as an escape from a postwar conformist lifestyle and a reminder of traditional values, which are emphasized through the valor of the hero.
High Noon clearly is a form of the “adult western,” which in many ways is similar to Bazin’s moralistic “superwestern.” Although this essay does not touch on the specific moral points which Foreman expresses through his script, it does help explain why Foreman chose the western, of all genres, to use as the backdrop for his allegorical treatment of the HUAC. The “adult western” is a rejection of the bourgeois city values in which the HUAC developed, causing High Noon to stand out less amongst a long line of individualist, anti-conformist westerns. Kane is a western hero whose appeal lies squarely in the “emotions, fears, inadequacies and psychoses of modern man,” since he too faces these issues. His defiance of the Miller Gang (and Foreman defying the HUAC) is not rooted in calculating, self-serving interest but in an emotional decision based on what is right and wrong, which fits with Nussbaum’s anti-rational theory of the Western.
Tichi, Cecelia. “Wild Wild West.” High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1994. 103-130.
Tichi, whose book focuses on country music, describes in this chapter how country music and “the west” in American culture are deeply integrated. She places emphasis on the “singing cowboy,” who used Wild West themes in country songs, of which Tex Ritter is a good example. Tichi traces the Western, and related country music, to the ideas of mid-19th century writers James Fenimore Cooper and Ralph Waldo Ellison, who both advocated for and wrote about nature and “self-reliance,” to reference Ellison’s famous essay. Tichi also describes how “the self-reliant individualist gains a crucial voice in song,” since the stereotypical cowboy is known for his reticence (122). Kane serves as an example of this for Tichi, since he feels loneliness and worry which he can express only through a song, since it would not fit with his otherwise masculine demeanor.
High Noon’s theme song, sung by Tex Ritter, sounds dated to modern ears, but as Tichi argues, it is remarkably effective at summarizing Kane’s dilemma. The song states that he “must be brave” and face Frank Miller, even if his Quaker wife will likely “forsake” him. By making explicit the choice, the song relates directly to the dilemma that faced those who testified before the HUAC: be a coward and name names, or stick to one’s principles and face the blacklist. Kane, as the reserved “cowboy,” cannot simply state what problems he faces; only the theme song can accurately summarize his dilemma, since otherwise Kane would reveal his weakness and a lack of masculinity that would be out of place in the western. The use of country music to express Kane’s thoughts is fitting, since it reflects the loneliness and alienation that characterizes Kane’s situation and that of postwar society torn by internal strife in the form of the HUAC hearings and anti-Communist hysteria in general.
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.