Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My top movies of all time - #6

Taxi Driver (1977, Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese is one of my three favorite directors (the other two have movies coming up on the list), and for the longest time I had problems figuring out which of his movies I thought was best. There's his gangster epic GoodFellas, one of the most improbably watchable movies I've seen (gangsters doing gangstery things, Scorsese not turning his view from the unpleasantness). There's also his boxing classic Raging Bull, about the self-destructive Jake LaMotta and his rise and fall through the ranks of boxing (and life). Both contain brilliant performances from Scorsese's collaborator Robert de Niro, but my favorite of their works together is their 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver is a lonely movie, inspired in part by the John Ford movie The Searchers, about Travis Bickle and his descent into his own mind. He drives anywhere through the seedy 1970's New York City (long before Giuliani cleaned up so much of the city), places other drivers refuse to go. He goes through these areas even though he despises all he sees around him. "Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets" he narrates from his journal at one point. He meets Cybil Shepherd's campaign worker character Betsy, as well as 12-year-old Iris, the child prostitute played by Jodie Foster and takes it upon himself to save them from their lives (he tells both of them at different times that they're "living a hell") whether they asked to be saved or even wanted to be saved or not, and by any means necessary. He sees himself as a kind of avenging angel, and he eventually begins training and equiping himself for his self imposed task.

It's a lonely movie, with a powerful central performance from De Niro (he might've never been better). After all these years, and many many viewings, I still can't quite explain why this movie burrows as deeply into my brain as it does. Many of us can relate to the profound loneliness that Travis feels, but certainly not in the direction he eventually directs his life. Still, something about Taxi Driver haunted me after I first watched it. Its greatness didn't hit me until a second or third viewing though, I just thought it was ok the first time I saw it. But something keeps nagging at me to make me want to revisit this movie time and time again. Although describing the plot makes it sound depressing, and the ending is certainly disturbing, I never leave with a negative feeling from it. It's the movie I probably react the deepest and oddest to in all of the list. Writing this kinda makes me want to watch it again. I might write a bit more in depth on it after I do.

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