Taxi Driver is a film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. The movie is set in early post–Vietnam Era New York City and stars Robert De Niro and features Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle and Cybill Shepherd.
Bickle becomes interested in "Betsy" (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign volunteer for New York Senator "Charles Palantine," who is running for the presidential nomination and is promising dramatic social change. She is initially intrigued by Bickle and agrees to a date with him after he flirts with her over coffee and sympathizes with her own apparent loneliness. She compares him to a character in the Kris Kristofferson song "The Pilgrim." On their date, however, Bickle is clueless about how to treat a woman and thinks it would be a good idea to take her to a Swedish sex education film (Language of Love). Offended, she leaves him and takes a taxi home alone. The next day he tries to reconcile with Betsy, phoning her and sending her flowers, but all of his attempts are in vain.
Rejected and depressed, Bickle's thoughts begin to turn violent. Disgusted by the petty street crime (especially prostitution) that he witnesses while driving through the city, he now finds a focus for his frustration and begins a program of intense physical training. He buys a number of pistols from an illegal dealer (Steven Prince) and practices a menacing speech in the mirror, while pulling out a pistol that he attached to a home-made sliding action holster on his right arm ("You talkin' to me?"). He develops an ominously intense interest in Senator Palantine's public appearances and it seems that he somehow blames the presidential hopeful for his own failure at wooing Betsy and maybe hopes to include her boss in his growing list of targets. In an accidental warm-up, Bickle randomly walks into a robbery in a run-down grocery and shoots the robber (Nat Grant) in the face; adding to the bizarre violence, the grocery owner (Victor Argo) then proceeds to club the near-dead stickup man with a steel pole.
Bickle is revolted by what he considers the moral decay around him. One night while on shift, "Iris" (Jodie Foster), a 12-year-old child prostitute, gets in his cab, attempting to escape her pimp. Shocked by the occurrence Bickle fails to drive off and the pimp, "Sport" (Harvey Keitel), reaches the cab. Sport gives Bickle a crumpled twenty dollar bill, which haunts Travis with the memory of his failure to help. Later seeing Iris on the street he pays for her time, although he does not have sex with her and instead tries to convince her to leave this way of life behind. The next day, they meet for breakfast and Bickle becomes obsessed with saving this naive child-woman who thinks hanging out with hookers, pimps and drug dealers is more "hip" than dating young boys and going to school.
Any lingering doubt in the viewer's mind about Bickle's insanity is obliterated when he is suddenly and shockingly shown to be sporting a crude Mohawk haircut at a public rally in which he actually attempts to assassinate Senator Palantine. He is spotted by Secret Service men and flees. Bickle returns to his apartment, then drives to Alphabet City where he shoots Sport, before storming into the brothel and killing the bouncer, Sport (who has followed Bickle), and Iris' mafioso customer. He then calmly tries repeatedly to fire a bullet into his own head from under his chin but all the weapons are empty so he resigns himself to resting on a convenient sofa until police arrive on the scene of mayhem and carnage.
A brief epilogue shows Bickle recuperating from the incident. He has received a handwritten letter from Iris' parents who thank him for saving their daughter, and the media hails him as a hero for saving her as well. Bickle blithely returns to his job, where one night one of his fares happens to be Betsy. She comments about his saving of Iris and Bickle's own media fame, yet Bickle denies being any sort of hero. He drops her off without charging her as a nod to her attempt to rekindle their all-too-brief relationship.
When Bickle determines to assassinate Senator Palantine, he cuts his hair into a mohawk. This detail was suggested by actor Victor Magnotta, a friend of Scorsese's who had a small role as a Secret Service agent and who had served in Vietnam. Scorsese later noted, "Magnotta had talked about certain types of soldiers going into the jungle. They cut their hair in a certain way; looked like a mohawk... and you knew that was a special situation, a commando kind of situation, and people gave them wide berths ... we thought it was a good idea."
Film critic Stephen Hunter's review of the film suggests that one universal assumption in the film, that Travis Bickle is a veteran of the Vietnam War, may not be accurate. Hunter points out how the Bickle character's military clothing and reaction to being around firearms seem incongruous for a combat veteran. Hunter's alternate theory is that Bickle may have been a loner who took up the veteran persona as part of his legion of personal/psychological problems.
While preparing for his role as Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro was filming Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900. According to Peter Boyle, he would "finish shooting on a Friday in Rome...get on a plane from Italy, fly to New York", whereupon he got himself a cab driver's license. He would then go to a garage, pick up a real cab and drive around New York, returning it before he had to depart for Rome again. Robert De Niro also acknowledged that while working on Travis' accent, on his days off from shooting 1900, he would go to an army base in Northern Italy and tape-record the accents of some of the locals there as he felt they would be good for Travis' character.
The actress who played Iris' friend in the film was a working prostitute studied by Jodie Foster to help create her role.
The climactic shoot-out was intensely graphic. To attain an "R" rating, Scorsese desaturated the colors, making the brightly-colored blood less prominent. In later interviews, Scorsese commented that he was actually pleased by the color change and he considered it an improvement over the originally filmed scene, which has been lost. However, 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 any more.
Some critics expressed concern over young Jodie Foster's presence during the climactic shoot-out. However, Foster stated 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. Rather than being upset or traumatized, 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 to ensure that she would not be emotionally scarred by her role, in accordance with California Labor Board requirements.
"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 revealed 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 on the film's ending being Bickle's dying dream. However, he admitted that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object implies that he 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.
The film was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best films of all time.
As of 2008, Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave positive reviews.