The Story (continued)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Around four pm, Travis is nervously pacing, smoking a cigarette, and checking his watch outside the headquarters. He narrates in voice-over his adoration for her as they meet and go for a coffee-shop rendezvous:
May 26th. Four o'clock p.m. I took Betsy to Charles Coffee Shop on Columbus Circle. I had black coffee and apple pie with a slice of melted yellow cheese. I think that was a good selection. Betsy had coffee and a fruit salad dish. She could have had anything she wanted.
During their conversation, Betsy tells him about the organizational problems of 15,000 Palantine volunteers in New York. Tangentially, Travis discusses his own personal problems in an awkward, forced way to try to make a light-hearted joke:
Travis: I know what you mean. I've got the same problems. I gotta get organized. Oh little things, like my apartment, my possessions. I should get one of those signs that says, 'One of These Days I'm Gonna Get Organizized.'
Betsy: You mean 'organized'?
Travis: Organeziezd. Organeziezd! It's a joke. (He spells it - incorrectly.) O - R - G - A - N - E - Z - I - E - Z - D.
Betsy: Oh, you mean 'Organizized' like those little signs they have in offices that say 'THIMK.'
During a rambling monologue, he compares himself favorably with her co-worker Tom:
Travis: I would say he has quite a few problems. His energy seems to go in the wrong places. When I walked in and I saw you two sitting there, I could just tell by the way you were both relating that there was no connection whatsoever. And I felt when I walked in that there was something between us. There was an impulse that we were both following. So that gave me the right to come in and talk to you. Otherwise I never would have felt that I had the right to talk to you or say anything to you. I never would have had the courage to talk to you. And with him I felt there was nothing and I could sense it. When I walked in, I knew I was right. Did you feel that way?
Betsy: I wouldn't be here if I didn't.
Travis: ...That fellow you work with. I don't like him. Not that I don't like him, I just think he's silly. I don't think he respects you.
Betsy: I don't believe I've ever met anyone quite like you.
Persistent in his pursuit of her, he invites her to go to the movies at some later date. After agreeing, she realizes how eccentric and unusual he is, ambiguous and misunderstood by everyone - "a walking contradiction":
Betsy: You know what you remind me of?
Betsy: That song by Kris Kristofferson. [She's referring to the song Pilgrim Chapter 33.]
Travis: Who's that?
Betsy: A songwriter. 'He's a prophet...he's a prophet and a pusher, partly truth, partly fiction. A walking contradiction.'
Travis: (uneasily) You sayin' that about me?
Betsy: Who else would I be talkin' about?
Travis: I'm no pusher. I never have pushed.
Betsy: No, no. Just the part about the contradictions. You are that.
In the next scene in a record shop, Travis is helped to select the Kris Kristofferson record album (The Silver Tongued Devil and I) with the song that Betsy quoted from. He purchases it for her and then the voice-over narration sets up their next date as he drives his cab through the streets:
I called Betsy again at her office and she said maybe we'd go to a movie together after she gets off work tomorrow. That's my day off. At first she hesitated but I called her again and then she agreed. Betsy, Betsy. Oh no, Betsy what? I forgot to ask her last name again. Damn. I got to remember stuff like that.
Suddenly, Charles Palantine (this time with his campaign aides) accidentally crosses Travis' path [again?] as one of his taxi passengers. Travis notices him as the middle passenger in his rear-view mirror. He immediately flatters the candidate, sucking up to him in small-talk about his support for his candidacy. The ultimate politician, Palantine quickly learns Travis' name and is willing to say anything to get elected. In an ironic remark, he tells Travis how he has learned more about America "from riding in taxi cabs than in all the limos in the country." When asked to describe a problem with the country, a tongue-tied Travis expresses his intense disgust for the city's filth in an interior monologue:
Travis: I'm one of your biggest supporters, you know. I tell everybody that comes in this taxi that they have to vote for you.
Palantine: Why thank you - (Pleased, he glances to check Travis' picture, identification and license posted in the rear seat) - Travis.
Travis: I'm sure you're gonna win sir. Everybody I know is gonna vote for ya. You know in fact, I was gonna put one of your stickers in my taxi but you know, the company said it was against their policy. But they don't know anything, you know. They're a bunch of jerks.
Palantine: Let me tell you something. I have learned more about America from riding in taxi cabs than in all the limos in the country...Can I ask you something Travis?
Palantine: What is the one thing about this country that bugs you the most?
Travis: Well I don't know, you know. I don't follow political issues that closely sir. I don't know.
Palantine: Oh but there must be something.
Travis: Well. (He thinks) Whatever it is, you should clean up this city here, because this city here is like an open sewer you know. It's full of filth and scum. And sometimes I can hardly take it. Whatever-whoever becomes the President should just (Travis honks the horn) really clean it up. You know what I mean? Sometimes I go out and I smell it, I get headaches it's so bad, you know...They just never go away you know...It's like...I think that the President should just clean up this whole mess here. You should just flush it right down the f---in' toilet.
Palantine: (after pausing and thinking for a meaningful answer) Well, uh, I think I know what you mean Travis. But it's not gonna be easy. We're gonna have to make some radical changes.
Travis: Damn straight.
Palantine: (after getting out of the cab, he leans down to look into the front window of the cab for a moment) Nice talkin' to you, Travis. (They shake hands)
Travis: Nice talking to you sir. You're a good man. I know you're gonna win.
Travis' incoherent answer stuns and alarms Palantine with his frankness and politically-suicidal suggestion.
His next passenger, a young, blonde, street-smart (hippie prostitute) girl (a young Jodie Foster) leaps into his cab, shouting: "Come on, man. Just get me out of here, all right?" As Travis hesitates and looks back over his shoulder at her, the rear door opens. She is attempting to flee from an older man (seen only from the waist down through the taxi window) who drags her from the cab. Travis is bought off with a $20 dollar bill: "Cabbie, just forget about this, it's nothin'." A little later, a gang of young black kids throw eggs and beer cans at his cab. When he returns his cab to the company early the next morning, he pulls into his stall and then sits, silently staring at the crumpled $20 dollar bill next to him untouched on the seat. He reluctantly picks it up and stuffs it into his shirt.
As a dressed-up Travis walks toward his appointed date with Betsy, the camera captures him in slow motion. The date with Betsy begins on a positive note - he proudly gives her his gift-wrapped present - the Kris Kristofferson record. But then she learns that he is a bit disconnected and out of touch from the world - he has a broken stereo player and he is unknowledgeable about music: "I don't follow music too much, but I would really like to. I really would."
Incredibly and pathetically, the socially-inept Travis sabotages his budding relationship with her. He takes her to a cheap, 42nd Street porno theatre with a garish marquee. Two adult-oriented shows are advertised: "2 Exciting Adult Hits! Bold XXX Entertainment - 'Sometime Sweet Susan' and 'Swedish Marriage Manual.'" (A loud snare drum beat is heard on the soundtrack as he purchases tickets for them.) He steps up to the box office and buys two tickets. Now realizing that he is unbalanced, she is offended and shocked by his odd choice of films:
Betsy: You've got to be kidding.
Betsy: This is a dirty movie.
Travis: (somewhat confused) No, no, this is, this is a movie that, uh, a lot of couples come to, all kinds of couples go here.
Betsy: Are you sure about that?
Travis: Sure. I've seen 'em all the time.
Travis awkwardly gestures and touches Betsy to escort her into the theatre. Travis sits very low in his seat in a typical porno theatre slouch. After a few minutes of "Swedish Marriage Manual" (an actual Swedish film titled Kärlekens språk (1969), a subtitled pornographic film, presenting hard-core sexual scenes under the guise of teaching sex), she is offended when the film's discussion about sex in marriage quickly cuts to a couple copulating on a bed and a scene of a sexual orgy. Now embarrassed and angry, she climbs over him in the aisle and storms out of the movie theater. Travis is frustrated and confused and hustles out after her. He wonders why she walked out, again expressing his ignorance about movies as an excuse:
Travis: Where are you going?
Betsy: Have to leave now.
Betsy: I don't know why I came in here. I don't like these movies.
Travis: Well, I mean, I, you know, I didn't know that you, you would feel that way about this movie. I don't know much about movies, but if I...
Betsy: Are these the only kind of movies you go to?
Travis: Well, yeah, I mean I come - this is not so bad.
Betsy: Taking me to a place like this is about as exciting to me as saying: 'Let's f--k.' (Behind Betsy is a blonde prostitute, facing toward Travis in the same position)
Travis: (flabbergasted by her blunt use of language, and attempting to apologize) Uh. There are other places I can take you. There are plenty of other movies I can take you to. I don't know much about them but I could take you to other places...
Travis' attempts to apologize are ineffective - Betsy hails a taxi and dumps him, revealing that she has only been playing with him from the start. She tells him that she already has the Kristofferson record: "I've already got it." He pleads for her to take it: "Please, I bought it for you, Betsy." As the car speeds off, he feebly asks: "Can I call you?"
The next scene is painful to watch. Travis is standing in a bare hallway (from the lobby of The Ed Sullivan Theater (at 1697 Broadway)), talking on a wall pay-phone to Betsy, apologizing for bringing her to a pornographic film:
Hello Betsy. Hi, it's Travis. How ya doin'? Listen, uh, I'm, I'm sorry about the, the other night. I didn't know that was the way you felt about it. Well, I-I didn't know that was the way you felt. I-I-I would have taken ya somewhere else. Uh, are you feeling better or oh you maybe had a virus or somethin', a 24-hour virus you know. It happens. Yeah, umm, you uh, you're workin' hard. Yeah. Uh, would you like to have, uh, some dinner, uh with me in the next, you know, few days or somethin'? Well, how about just a cup of coffee? I'll come by the, uh, headquarters or somethin', we could, uh...Oh, OK, OK. Did you get my flowers in the...? You didn't get them? I sent some flowers, uh...Yeah, well, OK, OK. Can I call you again? Uh, tomorrow or the next day? OK. No, I'm gonna...OK. Yeah, sure, OK. So long.
When he asks if she received the flowers he sent, the camera begins a tracking shot away from him to the right, moving to a fixed shot of the long, desolate empty hallway next to Travis. His voice-over explains his frustration over his awkward date and the aftermath of her rejection of him - a failed attempt at a normal relationship with an attractive woman. Travis is rebuffed repeatedly (she refuses to date him or answer his phone calls). The camera tracks across the floor of Travis' apartment, where there is a row of wilted and dying floral arrangements returned by Betsy. The flower bouquets are progressively more wilted from left to right:
I tried several times to call her, but after the first call, she wouldn't come to the phone any longer. I also sent flowers but with no luck. The smell of the flowers only made me sicker. The headaches got worse. I think I got stomach cancer. I shouldn't complain though. You're only as healthy, you're only as healthy as you feel. You're only as...healthy...as...you...feel.
Feeling troubled inside, Travis (now wearing his usual cab outfit) storms into the political headquarters during one of their busy workdays and ends up terrorizing the volunteers. While restrained by Tom's large frame, Travis confronts Betsy for not returning his phone calls:
Travis: Why won't you talk to me? Why don't you answer my calls when I call? You think I don't know you're here.
Tom: Let's not have any trouble.
Travis: You think I don't know. You think I don't know.
Tom: Would you please leave?
Travis: Get your hands off.
Escorted to the door (to be made an outsider), he sharply makes quick karate gestures at Tom. Rather than examine inside himself for the cause of the rejection, he strikes outward. He tells Betsy (whom he once thought was an angel) that she is demonically going to hell. She is like all the other women he's known - cold and distant:
You're in a hell, and you're gonna die in hell like the rest of 'em. You're like the rest of 'em.
Soured by the whole experience of his awkward date and aborted relationship with an upper-middle-class woman beyond his reach, he condemns her and begins his descent into isolation, psychosis (and armed violence):
I realize now how much she's just like the others - cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They're like a union.
In one of the more memorable scenes of the film, his next fare-paying passenger is a scary-acting, mustached, middle-aged individual (director Scorsese himself in a cameo role) who insists that Travis pull over to the curb, keep the meter running, and just sit. The man is the agonized husband of a cheating wife who watches her scantily-clad silhouette in the lit second-story window of another man's apartment. As Travis sits expressionless, his lunatic passenger (who speaks repetitively in circles) describes his homicidal plan. The demented passenger aggressively prods Travis to answer his questions during his fantasy of murdering his adulterous wife and her black partner with a .44 Magnum:
Passenger (smiling and laughing nervously and inappropriately throughout the dialogue): You see the woman in the window? Do you see the woman in the window?...I want you to see that woman, because that's my wife. That's not my apartment. That's not my apartment. You know who lives there? Huh? I mean, you wouldn't know who lives there - I'm just saying, but you know who lives there? Huh? A nigger lives there. How do ya like that? And I'm gonna, I'm gonna kill him...What do you think of that? Hmm? I said 'What do you think of that?' Don't answer. You don't have to answer everything. I'm gonna kill her. I'm gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. A .44 Magnum pistol. I'm gonna kill her with that gun. Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman's face? I mean it will f---in' destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That's what it will do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it can do to a woman's pussy? That you should see. That you should see what a .44 Magnum's gonna do to a woman's pussy you should see. I know, I know you must think that I'm, you know, you must think I'm pretty sick or somethin', you know, you must think I'm pretty sick. Right? You must think I'm pretty sick? Hmm? Right? I'll betcha, I'll betcha you really think I'm sick right? You think I'm sick? You think I'm sick? You don't have to answer that. I'm payin' for the ride. You don't have to answer that.
[Travis and the passenger have identical problems - they have both been spurned by women. Travis, however, eventually responds by taking his violence beyond fantasy.]
At the Belmore Cafeteria, a group of cabbies (Wizard, Dough Boy, Charlie T, and a fourth cabbie) at a formica-topped table swap more stories and small talk about their fares - midgets, fags, and other unusual characters. Wizard explains how he told one group of violent gay passengers to behave:
Wizard: Then I picked up these two fags, you know. They're goin' downtown. [A loud buzzer is activated as Travis steps through the turnstile into the wall-length counter area of the cafeteria. When he pulls his ticket from the dispenser, the buzzer is silenced.] They're wearing these rhinestone t-shirts. And they start arguin'. They start yellin'. The other says: 'You bitch.'...I say: 'Look, I don't care what you do in the privacy of your own home behind closed doors - this is an American free country, we got a pursuit of happiness thing, you're consenting, you're adult. BUT, you know, uh, you know, in my f---ing cab, don't go bustin' heads, you know what I mean? God love you, do what you want.'
Dough Boy: Tell 'em to go to California, 'cause out in California when two fags split up, one's got to pay the other one alimony.
Wizard: Not bad. Ah, they're way ahead out there, you know in California. So I had to tell 'em to get out of the f---in' cab.
Travis joins the group and repays a debt of five dollars to one of the cabbies. When he pulls out a large wad of small denomination bills, the crumpled $20 bill reminds him of the young hippie prostitute incident. He stares at it for a moment and then puts it back in his jacket pocket. He leaves briefly to speak privately outside to the philosophic Wizard. As he moves away, Charlie T (Norman Matlock) forms his hand into a pistol, cocks and fires - making the sound "Pgghew." He bids Travis good-bye using his newly-acquired nickname: "Goodbye Killer."
In the blood-red light of the outside neon sign, Travis looks for some kind of support and sports a nervous smile on his face. Wizard leans back against his cab and becomes an elder statesman/adviser for Travis. Hesitantly, Travis inarticulately explains his deteriorating mental condition and sinister tendencies - he's starting to get "bad ideas" in his head.
Wizard semi-articulately raps, in philosophical-tabloid slang, about becoming one's job and finding wisdom by getting drunk or laid. In Wizard's point of view, everyone is "more or less" f--ked and stuck in an absurd world:
Travis: Well, I know you and I ain't talked too much, you know, but I figured you've been around alot so you could...
Wizard: Shoot. That's why they call me the Wizard.
Travis: I got, it's just that I got a, I got a...
Wizard: Things uh, things got ya down?
Wizard: Yeah, it happens to the best of us.
Travis: Yeah, I got me a real down, real...I just wanna go out and, and you know like really, really, really do somethin'.
Wizard: The taxi life you mean?
Travis: Yeah, well. Naw, I don't know. I just wanna go out. I really, you know, I really wanna, I got some bad ideas in my head, I just...
Wizard: Look, look at it this way, you know uh, a man, a man takes a job, you know, and that job, I mean like that, and that it becomes what he is. You know like uh, you do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a, I've been a cabbie for seventeen years, ten years at night and I still don't own my own cab. You know why? 'Cause I don't want to. I must be what I, what I want. You know, to be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab. Understand? You, you, you become, you get a job, you you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn, one guy lives in Sutton Place, you get a lawyer, another guy's a doctor, another guy dies, another guy gets well, and you know, people are born. I envy you your youth. Go out and get laid. Get drunk, you know, do anything. 'Cause you got no choice anyway. I mean we're all f---ed, more or less you know.
Travis: Yeah, I don't know. That's about the dumbest thing I ever heard.
Wizard: I'm not Bertrand Russell. Well what do ya want. I'm a cabbie you know. What do I know? I mean, I don't even know what the f--- you're talkin' about.
Travis: Yeah I don't know. Maybe I don't know either.
Wizard: Don't worry so much. Relax Killer, you're gonna be all right. I know I seen a lot of people and uh, I know.
Travis, literally stuck in a world he doesn't understand, is unable to assimilate Wizard's existential sermon, calling it "the dumbest thing" he ever heard.
Travis' next meal consists of crumbled up pieces of white bread in a cereal bowl, covered with peach brandy, milk and sugar. In front of his rabbit-eared TV in his dreary tenement apartment, an angst-ridden Travis eats and watches a TV interview with candidate Palantine:
When we came up with our slogan, 'We are the People,' when I said let the people rule, I felt that I was being somewhat overly optimistic. I must tell you that I am more optimistic now than ever before. The people are rising to the demands that I have made on them. The people are beginning to rule. I feel it is a groundswell. I know it will continue through the primary. I know it will continue in Miami. And I know it will rise to an unprecedented swell in November.