The Story (continued)
Taxi Driver (1976)
As he drives his cab past the Palantine headquarters, the tracking point-of-view camera peers through the windows of the building. The headquarters is half-empty - and Betsy's desk is vacant. A sign in the window reads: "Only 4 More Days Until the Arrival of Charles Palantine - Our Next President." From another view atop his cab, Travis' "Off-Duty" light goes off as he speeds toward a prospective fare.
Later while driving through a dark street, Travis suddenly hits his brakes to avoid running down the same young girl he had earlier seen pulled from the back seat of his cab. This time, the girl has recklessly crossed the street in front of his cab -she stares in shock at him through the windshield, dressed in a flowery outfit with a floppy hat. He slowly trails the young girl and her blonde female companion down the street - they both gesture to a figure on a porch stoop, calling him Sport. Travis realizes that they are both hippie child-prostitutes when they pick up two johns at a street corner.
He speeds off and trails other pedestrians of the night as his voice-over explains his destiny - existential loneliness. In contrast to his paltry verbal communications, his thoughts are an obsessive, tortured, skewered record of his thoughts and views on mankind, yet insightful about the ugly corruption of life in the city:
Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man. (Travis is seen writing in his journal.) June 8th. My life has taken another turn again. The days can go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, there is a change. (Behind him on the wall is his "One of These Days, I'm Gonna Get Organiz-ized" sign.)
[His thoughts about his loneliness provide a cultural allusion to Thomas Wolfe's 'God's Lonely Man.']
The first way Travis gets organized to combat his existential loneliness is through weapons armament. At a street corner, Travis pops three or four aspirin from a brown bag directly from the bottle into his mouth. One of his cabbie friends pulls up and introduces him to "Easy" Andy (Steven Prince), a traveling salesman who offers to sell him guns. The well-dressed young man carries two large display suitcases and places them on a bed in an economy hotel room. A full-screen close-up slowly pans up the long, eight-inch barrel of an inhuman, oversized .44 Magnum. [Travis' choice of weapon may have been inspired by his recollection of his cab passenger's speech: "I'm gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. A .44 Magnum pistol. I'm gonna kill her with that gun."] Travis first picks up the Magnum and then three other different guns to examine them as Easy Andy admiringly describes their features:
There you go - a supreme high re-sale weapon. Look at that. Look at that. That's a beauty. I could sell those guns to some jungle bunny in Harlem for five hundred bucks. But I just deal high-quality goods to the right people. How about that? This might be a little too big for practical purposes in which case for you, I'd recommend .38 snub nose. Look at this. Look at it. That's a beautiful little gun. It's nickel-plated, snub nose, otherwise the same as the service revolver. That'll stop anything that moves. The Magnum - they use that in Africa for killin' elephants. That .38 - it's a fine gun. Some of these guns are like toys. That .38 - you go out and hammer nails with it all day, come back and it will cut dead center on target every time. It's got a really nice action to it and a heck of a whallop. You interested in a automatic? It's a Colt .25 Automatic. It's a nice little gun. It's a beautiful little gun. It holds six shots in the clip, one shot in the chamber so if you're done, you don't have to put a round in the chamber. Here, look at this. 380 Walther, holds eight shots in the clip. That's a nice gun. Now that's a beautiful little gun. Look at that. During World War II, they used this gun to replace the P38. Just given out to officers. Ain't that a little honey?
Travis places the gun under his belt and pulls his shirt over it, testing to see whether it can be concealed. Then he inquires about purchasing all four guns: "How much for everything?" Andy first dissuades him from carrying the Magnum, but quickly provides a solution: "Only a jack-ass would carry that cannon in the streets like that. Here. Here's a beautiful hand-made holster I had made in Mexico. $400 dollars." After Travis purchases an assortment of four semi-automatic guns for $875 from the underground dealer (making sure to include a .44 Magnum in his arsenal - taking his cue from the homicidal fare he ferried), Andy asks if Travis is interested in buying drugs or hot automobiles:
Andy: How about dope? Grass. Hash. Coke. Mescaline. Downers. Nebutol. Tuonal. Chloral Hydrates? How about any Uppers? Amphetamines.
Travis: No I'm not interested in that stuff.
Andy: Crystal meth. I can get ya crystal meth. Nitrous oxide. How about that? How about a Cadillac? I get ya a brand new Cadillac. With the pink slip for two grand.
A second means to find a new identity is to begin an intense, action-oriented regimen of rigid, physical training. Travis exercises fanatically even though his mental condition deteriorates, vigorously doing excessive numbers of push-ups, pull-ups and weight exercises in his apartment as if preparing for a war-like mission. Bareback and only wearing jeans, his back is marked with shrapnel scars as he does push-ups above the oddly-matching linoleum floor of his kitchen. During his 're-organization,' his body becomes taut and wirey when he denounces junk food and other poisons. The pace of the film quickens:
June 29th. I gotta get in shape now. Too much sittin' is ruinin' my body. Too much abuse has gone on for too long. From now on, it will be fifty push-ups each morning, fifty pull-ups. (He passes his stiff arm through the flame of a gas burner without flinching.) There'll be no more pills, there'll be no more bad food, no more destroyers of my body. From now on, it will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight.
The soundtrack explodes with practice shots he fires at a target in an indoor firing range with his arsenal of illegal guns. Without knowing why he has embarked on such rigorous training, Travis' pent-up anger and frustration he had told Wizard about is being released. In a porno theater while watching a sex scene, he points his finger like a gun at the screen, linking sex (foreplay) and violence (gunplay). As the action becomes more graphic on screen, he places his stiffened trigger hand above his eyes, partially shutting off and shielding his field of vision.
The idea had been growing in my brain for some time. True force. All the king's men cannot put it back together again.
[Travis' literary/cultural allusion is to Robert Penn Warren's novel, All the King's Men, an account of the dangers of populist politics.]
Back in his apartment, a bare-chested Travis has attached guns to himself (first one - and then two shoulder holsters and a third gun from behind). He practices drawing them in front of a mirror. His wall is decorated with tacked-up maps and political paraphernalia related to demagogue/politician Charles Palantine [By repressed projection, Betsy is also targeted as Palantine's disciple.] Turning more alienated and violent and harnessing his puritanical energy, he manufactures a custom-made fast-draw, gliding mechanism that he attaches to his forearm, and another concealed knife-holder for a horrible-looking combat knife on his ankle. The weapons and other spring-loaded, metal gadgets attached to him are extensions of his body - his gunmanship is astonishing. At his table, he dum-dums the .44 bullets, cutting 'x's' across the bullet heads.
A rally platform decorated with red, white and blue bunting is being assembled for an outdoor Palantine rally, where both Betsy and Tom are busily working. Stalking everyone at the rally in a green Army jacket, Travis sidles up to a tall, serious, sun-glass wearing Secret Service agent (Richard Higgs), first imitating his crossed-arm stance, and then leading him into an overly friendly chat about the Secret Service and guns:
Travis: Hey, you're a Secret Service man aren't ya? Huh?
Agent: (indifferently) Just waiting for the Senator.
Travis: You're waiting for the Senator? Oh! That's a very good answer. S--t! I'm waitin' for the sun to shine. Yeah. No, the reason I, I asked if you were a Secret Service man, I won't say anything, because I (Travis pauses, noticing two more agents walking by)...I saw some suspicious looking people over there. (Travis points away) Yeah, they were over there, right over there. They were just here, uh. They were very, very, uh...
Travis: Yeah. Is it hard to get to be in the Secret Service?
Travis: Well, I was just curious, because I think I'd be good at it. Very observant. I was in the Marine Corps you know, I'm good with crowds. I'm noticin' the little pin there. (Looking at the agent's lapel.) That's like a signal isn't it?
Agent: Sort of.
Travis: A signal. A secret signal for the Secret Service. Hey, what kind of guns do you guys carry? 38s, 45s, 357 Magnums, somethin' bigger maybe?
Agent: Look, uh, if you're really interested, if you give me your name and address, we'll send you all the information on how to apply. How's that?
Travis: You will?
Agent: Sure. (The agent takes out a notepad.)
Travis: OK. Why not? My name is Henry Krinkle. K-R-I-N-K-L-E. 154 Hopper Avenue.
Travis: Yeah. You know like a rabbit, hip, hop. Ha, ha. Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
Agent: Is there a zip code to that Henry?
Travis: Yeah, 610452. OK?
Agent: That's, uh, six digits.
Travis: Oh, well 61045.
Travis: I was thinking of my telephone number.
Agent: Well, I've got it all. Henry, we'll get all the stuff right out to you.
Travis: Thanks alot. Hey, great. Thanks alot. Hell, Jesus. Be careful today.
Agent: Right. Will do.
Travis: You have to be careful in and around a place like this. Bye.
Travis is quickly marked and fulfills the stereotypical profile for a lone, crazy gunman. As Travis walks away, the agent signals that a Secret Service photographer (Vic Magnotta) take his picture, but Travis becomes lost in the crowd when Palantine's car drives up.
Turning more alienated and violent, in the most terrifying, but classic sequence in the film, he glares at himself in the mirror and recites conversations in which he threatens and insistently challenges imaginary enemies, rehearsing his quick-draw with his spring-loaded holster:
Yeah. Huh? Huh? Huh? (I'm) faster than you, you f--kin' son of a...I saw you comin', you f--k, s--t-heel. I'm standin' here. You make the move. You make the move. It's your move. (He draws his gun from his concealed forearm holster.) Don't try it, you f--ker. You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? (He turns around to look behind him.) Well, who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here. Who the f--k do you think you're talkin' to? Oh yeah? Huh? OK. (He whips out his gun again.) Huh?
The conversation then becomes internal and disjointed - the film literally replays itself in a jerky rewind, reflecting the disassociated, obsessive nature of his mind, while he lies on his bed or again taunts make-believe adversaries in front of a mirror:
Listen you f--kers, you screwheads. Here's a man who would not take it anymore. Who would not let...Listen you f--kers, you screwheads. Here's a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the c--ts, the dogs, the filth, the s--t, here is someone who stood up. (A close-up of his diary entry, "Here is," is followed by three erratic dots.) HERE IS --- (He draws his gun.) You're dead.
In an all-night convenience supermarket one night where he stops while driving his cab, he witnesses a holdup of the store manager Melio while picking up a carton of milk and a midnight snack from behind one of the shelves in the store aisle. He confronts the nervous, hopped-up, young, black stick-up man and shoots him in the head with his concealed .32. The robber reels and collapses to the floor. Worried because he used an unlicensed weapon, Travis leaves the gun with the manager and drives off, while the enraged store manager (wearing a green-shouldered, super-patriotic Tulane T-shirt) beats the unconscious thief on the floor with a pipe.
Unmoving, expressionless, and mesmerized in front of his TV while watching American Bandstand, one of the cultural icons of the 1960s. To illustrate his own violent self-hatred, Travis has his gun barrel propped against his head while he listens to the words of a Jackson Browne song "Late For the Sky," as young teenyboppers suggestively slow-dance on the screen:
...And close to the end
Of the feeling we've known
How long have I been sleepin'?
How long have I been driftin' all through the night?
How long have I been runnin' for that morning flight
Through the whispered promises and the changin' light
Of the band where we both lie
Late for the Sky.
Estranged by his own sense of inadequacy in his world,Travis feels threatened by the blatant exposure of teenage sexuality.
At another Palantine rally in a crowded city sidestreet dwarfed by skyscrapers, Travis stalks the candidate again. He sits coldly staring in his "Off-Duty" cab in the driver's seat and listens to the candidate's speech on a booming, distant loudspeaker system:
Walt Whitman, that great American poet, spoke for all of us when he said: 'I am the man. I suffered. I was there.' Today, I say to you, We Are The People, we suffered, we were there. We the People suffered in Vietnam. We the People suffered, we still suffer from unemployment, inflation, crime and corruption.
Palantine's populist message is inspiring, but like Travis, separates himself from the populace. As the camera pans over the Palantine rally audience (which includes Tom and Betsy on the raised platform and the Secret Service agent), Travis' voice-over recites a greeting card message which he prepares to send to his parents (The cheap, kitschy card reads: "Happy Anniversary To A Couple of Good Scouts." It pictures a couple dressed like Boy Scouts on the front.):
Dear Father and Mother:
July is the month I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father's Day and Mother's birthday. I'm sorry I can't remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I'm sorry again I cannot send you my address like I promised to last year. But the sensitive nature of my work for the government demands utmost secrecy. I know you will understand. I am healthy and well and making lots of money. I have been going with a girl for several months and I know you would be proud if you could see her. Her name is Betsy but I can tell you no more than that...
A policeman at the rally (Gino Ardito) interrupts the reading of his letter/card and forces Travis to move his cab from an unauthorized parking space. Travis resumes reading the letter in his monotonous voice-over while he examines the card at his desk:
...I hope this card finds you all well as it does me. I hope no one has died. Don't worry about me. One day, they'll be a knock on the door and it'll be me. Love Travis.
Travis watches a daytime soap opera, a scene of the break-up of a young couple's marriage due to the woman's desire to divorce her husband and marry another man. The scene painfully reminds Travis of his own romantic failures. He tilts the table holding the cheap black-and-white TV back with his foot - it balances precariously there until falling over and crashing, exploding in sparks on the floor. As the television shatters, so does Travis' life go out of balance. Travis holds his hand between his hands, swearing at himself.
As a counterpoint to Betsy's untouchable 'angelic' womanhood, Travis finally meets Iris (Jodie Foster) on the tenement streets, a 12 1/2 year old prostitute (homeless runaway) managed by a small-time pimp "boyfriend" named Matthew or "Sport" (Harvey Keitel):
Iris: You lookin' for some action?
Iris: You see that guy over there?
Iris: You go talk to him. His name is Matthew. I'll be over there waitin' for ya.
The head-banded, T-shirted, long-haired, greaser pimp first mistakes Travis for an undercover cop, extending his crossed wrists as if to be handcuffed. After suspiciously checking each other out and verbally sparring, they both find each other 'clean' and then negotiate a price:
Sport: Officer, I swear I'm clean. I'm just waitin' here for a friend. You gonna bust me for nothin' man?
Travis: I'm not a cop.
Sport: So why are you askin' me for action?
Travis: (gesturing at Iris) Because she sent me over.
Sport: I suppose that ain't a .38 you got in your sock.
Travis: A .38? No. I'm clean man.
Sport: (noticing Travis' Western boots) S--t. You're a real cowboy? That's nice, man. That's all right. Fifteen dollars, fifteen minutes, twenty-five dollars, half an hour.
Sport: A cowboy, huh? I once had a horse, on Coney Island. She got hit by a car. Well, take it or leave it. If you want to save yourself some money, don't f--k her. Cause you'll be back here every night for some more. Man, she's twelve and a half years old. You never had no p---y like that. You can do anything you want with her. You can cum on her, f--k her in the mouth, f--k her in the ass, cum on her face, man. She get your c--k so hard she'll make it explode. But no rough stuff, all right?
As Travis turns to walk away, Sport tells him: "Catch you later, Copper." Travis turns back and freezes, insisting: "I'm no cop, man." Travis plays along: "I'm hip," but Sport laughingly disagrees: "Funny, you don't look hip. Go ahead, have yourself a good time. Go ahead. (As Travis stares him down, Sport shoots two imaginary guns at him to get him going to his sexual escapade.) Ha, ha, ha, ha. You're a funny guy."
As a police siren loudly cries in the streets, fresh-faced and innocent, but world-weary Iris escorts Travis to a walk-up apartment. At the far end of the corridor, they pass by the manager of the hotel rooms (Murray Mosten) who rents out rooms to prostitutes and serves as Iris' timekeeper. The two enter a room through hanging cords of clear, colored beads to have fifteen minutes of sex.