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The case for delirium,
This review is from: Taxi Driver (Collector's Edition) (DVD)
The ending of Taxi Driver has generated a lot of controversy and confusion because most people tend to assume that it's a simple continuation of the narrative of the film. In critical studies, however, the possibility is often raised that the end (after the the shoot-out scene to the end of the movie) is no less than Bickle's dying delirious imagination. I want to set forth the case that this is so.
First, at the end of the shoot-out scene, Bickle rolls his eyes backwards in the classic movie signature of death. Just before, of course, he put his blood-dripping finger up to his temple and mimed blowing his own brains out (after having failed with the empty real guns). Bickle is suicidal, dying, and will not recover.
Second, after this scene the camera pans across various news clippings on the wall of Bickle's room; these clippings describe him as a "hero" that saved a young girl. Also we hear the voice-over of Iris' parents saying that Bickle would always be welcome in their home for saving Iris. But think about real life crimes for a moment. When newspapers report about a man that goes on a shooting spree in a run-down part of town, do they really ever report them as "heroes"? Even if Bickle could explain to them why he did this (Iris' dad says he was in a coma after the shoot-out), would anyone really take a person like this at their word? And would Iris' parents really want to allow a murderous man a place at their table? What we have here is Bickle's fantasy about how he _wants_ the press and Iris' folks to interpret his actions, not a realistic view of how the world generally views such actions.
Third (along the same lines as #2), it's hard to imagine Bickle's buddies at the cabstand glossing over his rampage and treating him like old times. Really, if a co-worker of mine were involved in so violent an incident, I would probably not hang out with him so blithely. This is Travis imaginging that things are "back to normal" after getting out of the hospital -- a fantasy of peace.
Fourth, Bickle happens to find Betsy in his cab soon after returning to work. How fortuitous in a city of millions! But their conversation shows that she now respects him, considers him a hero like the newspapers and Iris' parents. Again, extremely unlikely -- especially given their history. In real life if she heard about the rampage (or recognized him trying to kill Palentine), that would only tend to confirm her earlier opinion of him as a depraved person. But here she also interprets his actions in the way he wants them to be interpreted (that he saved Iris from the human scum that were selling her) rather than how she probably would in real life. (Also note that the photography of this scene always shows Betsy's face from his viewpoint, floating in a dreamlike way in his rear-view mirror.)
Fifth, when Bickle drops Betsy off she seems uncertain, embarrased, and demure, and is obviously just on the verge of offering some kind of intimate apology. Instead she asks how much is the fare. He drives off without accepting a dime. This is Bickle's triumph -- he wins their relationship battle by rejecting _her_, and by being confident, independent, and morally superior. Typical subconscious inversion tactic.
Sixth, as he drives off, Bickle sees himself in the car's rear-view mirror, then adjusts it to see if he can see Betsy. As he does so, a violent wrench is given to the accompanying musical score. Then we see no one in the mirror at all as the credits roll to Bernard Hermann's haunting love theme. There's nothing in the mirror (except the rolling, ubiquitous city) because Travis is not there. Its symbolic of his death -- like that of a vampire -- that the mirror doesn't show his reflection. Travis is dead and we have just witnessed his last thoughts.
Travis is only a hero in his own mind. There is no hero in this movie. It does not have a happy ending. Travis continues to justify his own behavior and viewpoint to the last, and grants himself a kind of sainthood -- beatified by the press, Iris' parents, and Betsy's acquiescence.
The tragedy of the movie is deepend by this reading of its end. To my mind, this also makes the movie more coherent, since it's main theme is the psychological isolation of Travis Bickle. The end consumates his separateness. Others will never connect to his vision of himself as a master (rather than a victim) of circumstance, a protector of innocence, a scourge of evildoers, an instrument of God's judgement.
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Showing 1-10 of 32 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 8, 2006 12:46:16 AM PST
Terria Velez says:
This has got to be one of the most insightful reviews that I've ever read on this site!! Bravo. cannot wait to read some more from you. Thanks!
Posted on Jan 6, 2007 10:12:47 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 6, 2007 10:15:42 PM PST
Veronica Anzaldua says:
When I saw this movie before, I thought that what I was seeing toward the end of the movie after the bloody rampage was real--that Travis was only in a coma and would eventually recover, that the press really thought him a hero, that Iris came back home and her folks were grateful to him for saving her, and that Betsy changed her mind about him after hearing about his "heroism". But your review refuted this and gave me something to think about. And it's true. In real life, people who go on a bloody rampage like Travis (even if it's done with good intentions in mind) rarely get applauded for their actions. They would get arrested and serve time for their crimes. Take Bernard Goetz, for example. When he killed several youths on a New York subway in 1984 (supposedly because they were going to rob him), he did get applauded by fellow New Yorkers for his "heroism", but he didn't get off so easy with the authorities. Additionally, I find it hard to believe that warm, loving parents like Iris's would praise Travis for violently murdering people in the name of "saving" their daughter. Most people wouldn't. And finally, no woman in her right mind would see someone like Travis as a potential mate, given what he's done. I totally understood why Betsy rejected him--if a man took me to a porn movie on our first date, it would be our last one, because I'd never want to see him again.
So, yes, what we see during the last 10 minutes or so of the movie could indeed be Travis's final thoughts. Like Travis, many of us have fantasies and thoughts that make out things to be better than they actually are. So true.
Posted on Feb 23, 2007 7:19:38 AM PST
The Straw Man says:
I do want to say first and foremost, why are Amazon.com allowing spoilers and/or revealing the endings to movies in their reviews. It was always my understanding that a review shouldn't kill the ending of the movie, as with this review here. Now this review isn't a true spoiler for Taxi Driver, but if one hasn't seen the movie, this review sort of ruins the end of the film. With regards to reviews that our spoilers, I can respect that Taxi Driver is over 30 years old and it isn't a new movie, but I can't respect that not everyone has seen it. Therefore when you write a review don't give the ending away, because everyone reading the review hasn't already seen the movie. After all, if you are interested in buying a movie you haven't seen from Amazon.com and read a review that gives the ending away, would you still want to buy the movie?
As for the review itself, I think it is an extremely interesting take on the conclusion of Taxi Driver. However, is it really true ending of the film? I don't think so. The character of Travis Bickle has a borderline personality disorder/post traumatic stress disorder, with elements of schizotypal and/or schizophrenia. Perhaps people aren't familiar with these psychological terms, if this is the case I apologize; it can be a hard concept to grasp. Nevertheless I am about to teach abnormal psychology 101, I will focus on how these disorders influence Travis Bickle, the plot and outcome.
After the bordello bloodbath, it is safe to say Travis went to the hospital. Then it is also safe to say Iris went back to her parents. The idea that her parents write Travis a thank you letter isn't that surprising. These people are so pleased that their daughter is home and not hooking, who cares how it happened. Since Travis went on a rampage it took the focus off Iris and placed it on Sport (Iris' pimp) and the sordid city for making her sell her body. This removes any guilt Iris' parents might have been feeling. The voice of Iris' parent is the epitome of the "nice, old fashion, apple pie family", which emphasizes how clueless of their situation in parenting really is. Considering Travis' personality disorder, it isn't too surprising that he has this letter along with newspaper clippings on the wall. As for all the pro-newspaper articles that are displayed on his walls, this is only a selection of articles from Travis myopic point of view. We do not see the news clippings reporting that Travis Bickle is blooming crazy. He is the type of person that only takes the aspect that fits his vision and purpose. This is also why we don't hear about any probation or legal action that might have transpired against him.
As for everyone (including co-workers) "forgiving him", it appears much time has passed since his "rampage", his hair has grown back and he is no longer going for the Seminole look. The reason behind the forgiveness of Travis' actions is because of who he did it for. A 13 year old girl, yes a 13 year old girl. In society children/teenagers are pure and anything done bad or malevolent with reference towards them is taboo, especially sexual abuse or acts towards children/teenagers. Therefore, Iris is shaded wonderfully under this umbrella. So it isn't too shocking that everyone thinks that Travis is the man. This doesn't mean that Travis is hanging out with all his co-workers, or they are tailgating every weekend. This just means that his behaviors are more acceptable. In addition a company can't discriminate for a person for having a criminal record (if there were charges made), even if they went on a rampage. Nevertheless, if this type of event would transpire and be considered acceptable, it would happen in New York City (where this film takes place). After all New York City banned Trans fat. Forget New York City, Martha Stewart committed several federal crimes and she is now/still one of the riches women in America. Why, because she is a hero as a result of her outlandish cooking and whimsical home decorating, nobody really cares if she did undesirable deeds.
These same notions can be used when decoding Travis and Betsy. It is true their second date didn't go to well (remember the porno movie?), but it is safe to say with many women (not all) that once something is unattainable and/or enigmatical it becomes much more desirable. In other words, Betsy dumped Travis and refused to talk to him. Travis flips his lid and in the process becomes a hero. Now she finds him somewhat alluring and attractive. Mainly because he seems so aloof and ambivalent, this is triggering her fascination. This behavior really screams more about Betsy than it does about Travis.
As for the final minute of the film, after Travis rejects Betsy's approach at rebuilding their relationship, he drives off and looks back into the mirror and sees nothing. He doesn't see Betsy, himself or anything other than the sordid city. This leads me to believe that Travis didn't die; rather he just is again lost in his lonely and detached personal hell. He became a "hero" but still has nothing. No Betsy, no Iris, no fame and no friends. He is still stuck in the city he hates and has again becomes insignificant in the world. I think that this is more of a depressing ending than Travis dying, because if he died he would have escaped his personal purgatory. It is not that I want to accept the idea that the lead character couldn't die, I just think with respect to plot, characters and society, points more to the fact that he didn't die and everything went back to (ab) normal.
I do respect the idea behind this reviewer's thoughts and conclusion to Taxi Driver, which is a wonderful film no matter how you interpret it. Consequently, I don't think Travis Bickle had to die to go to hell. He was and is already there.
Posted on Mar 24, 2007 6:03:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 24, 2007 6:06:22 PM PDT
Scorsese himself said it was a real ending and he has said that given Travis looking into the mirror and seeing something right as the movie ends, that "he's going to do it again".
There have been talks with Scorsese and De Niro about a sequel. (I hope this does not occur however) but the fact that there are talks for a sequel proves that none of the creative entities involved with the film consider the ending a dream. It was real.
Also consider the media's glowing coverage of the shootout. They glorified it as a rescue, and as a cabbie who did the right thing. The other cabbies didn't know that Travis had almost assassinated the Senator, or had been contemplating his murderous rage while rotting in solitude. As far as they were concerned, Travis was thrown into the plot and defended himself. So of course they wouldn't be upset to be around him. They even said themselves they carried guns.
The fact that Travis is not in jail also proves this. Despite the pimps' less than stellar reputations, it would still be first degree murder had the police known Travis' true motives.
AS someone else said, the real tragedy of the film is the fact that despite his actions in saving Iris, he will continue as he always did, with his sort of friends, without Betsy, and driving around New York. And as Scorsese said, its only a matter of time before he "does it again".
Posted on Jul 31, 2007 2:35:18 PM PDT
L. S. Slaughter says:
Scorcese said it was "real". You thoughts are interesting, well-written, and well-put, but why not just accept the poetic ambiguity of it all? I mean, it's a film, not a motor engine.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 9, 2007 3:54:10 PM PST
Mr. Terry G. Elder says:
"As for the final minute of the film, after Travis rejects Betsy's approach at rebuilding their relationship, he drives off and looks back into the mirror and sees nothing. He doesn't see Betsy, himself or anything other than the sordid city. This leads me to believe that Travis didn't die; rather he just is again lost in his lonely and detached personal hell. He became a "hero" but still has nothing. No Betsy, no Iris, no fame and no friends. He is still stuck in the city he hates and has again becomes insignificant in the world. I think that this is more of a depressing ending than Travis dying, because if he died he would have escaped his personal purgatory. It is not that I want to accept the idea that the lead character couldn't die, I just think with respect to plot, characters and society, points more to the fact that he didn't die and everything went back to (ab) normal. "
Thought your retort was pretty standard until this last paragraph. That really sums it up, and reinforces Scorsese's thoughts that Bickle's rampage would later continue.
Anyway, the OP's review of this film is strikingly similar to the original Ebert review done many years ago. While it doesn't touch on the fact that Taxi Driver is a spiritual remake of a classic John Ford film, it covers the ambiguous ending; a major point in Ebert's analysis. Nothing new, or thought provoking. Just one particular way to interpret something that can be interpreted in any way you see fit. Scorsese giving the film a definitive ending though spoils some of the fun. I've always preferred Kubrick's don't ask don't tell approach...
Posted on Mar 14, 2008 12:24:54 PM PDT
Ross Lipman says:
I agree completely with the response of the other writer who said that this commentary is one of the best and most insightful she's ever seen. Whether Mr. Allen is correct or not (and I think he's made an outstanding case for his interpretation), he's provided an excellent analysis that makes sense of an otherwise difficult-to-explain conclusion to the film. Commentary like this is exactly why I go to Amazon for information about films I've watched or am interested in seeing. I'm eager to find out what else Mr. Allen has written.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2008 9:05:47 AM PDT
Scott Andrew Hutchins says:
Posted on Apr 3, 2008 10:23:33 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jun 25, 2009 12:41:36 PM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2008 3:15:33 AM PDT
S. Hand says:
You have to be one of the worst members here.