Another striking sequence occurs in the cafe. In a bold stroke, the dominance of Travis’ psychology over the way the film is presented is emphasised by him dropping an Asprin into a glass of water. The camera zooms, very slowly, towards the effervescence. The shot lasts twelve seconds, zooming in the whole time. The symbolism of this prolonged shot is utterly impossible to ignore: this maligned young man is going crazy. The whole film is an exaggerated, nightmare extension of a strain of American society completely and suddenly void of function. Bickle's antiheroic character is more directly related to a failure of a capitalist system that pits his workingclass position as a cab driver against those who have already been disenfranchised according to socioeconomic class, gender, and/or race. (Ianucci, 2005)
Travis takes solace in the refinement of his masculinity. He works out, he hovers his clenched fist above a naked flame, and he finds a direction, a singularly powerful demonstration of his virility, potency and purpose. It could be said that this occurs only after he fails to ingratiate himself into society through accepted means (getting a girlfriend), but I would argue that his loneliness is self-imposed. It is as if Travis understands loneliness, understands his misplacement in society, and perpetuates it because he does not understand how to behave otherwise. On his first date, Travis takes Betsy to a porno theatre. Surely even Travis understands that this is unacceptable, yet he doesn’t admit to himself that he has purposefully driven her away. As Amy Taubin remarks, ‘Taxi Driver... is a film steeped in failure... to at least 49 per cent of the population, the failure of masculinity as a set of behavioural codes on which to mould a life’ (Taubin, 2000: 9).
Betsy’s (Cybil Shepherd) introduction to the film is curiously displayed. It is clear we are seeing her through Travis’ point of view, though he is not present in the frame. Instead we have his disembodied narration (a technique often liberating in film in terms of its accepted, nondiegetic nature, but in Taxi Driver the device serves only to hermetically seal the film: the narration is Travis reading his diary). However, Scorsese is present in the frame, watching Betsy as she passes in slowmotion. It is the only time in the film when the shot itself (the slow-motion romanticism of it) and the music (an idolatry swoon) are coincidentally adoring. Immediately after the brief relationship with Betsy sours Travis remarks, ‘I realise now that she is just like the rest of them: cold and distant. There are many people like that. Women for sure.’ Enter Scorsese for the second time, this time with a 44. Magnum.
ESSAY BY JOE PIERSON IMAGES FROM GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH