Surviving the Moral Narrative of ‘Taxi Driver’ 40 Years On

Surviving the Moral Narrative of Taxi Driver 40 Years On.jpg
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Forty years on from its release date in February 1976, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver still thrives in our collective public consciousness as a film in which an agitated and topless man manically challenges himself in the mirror; New York City is shown to be a violent and squalid night-world of terror, supersaturated with muted colors and washed over with blood; whilst Cybill Shepherd (as Betsy) presents herself as an ethereal beauty who is achingly beyond reach.

Taxi Driver is a classic and controversial exponent of the New Hollywood style of filmmaking, which sought to deconstruct its forbears through pushing past boundaries, whether they be technical, cultural, or anything else within their reach. So, taken on the face of it, Taxi Driver might appear to be a series of disturbing and ultra-violent snapshots that bled out and contaminated the reality that it sought to represent. Famously, for example, John Hickley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Ronald Regan after obsessing over Jodie Foster, who played Iris: a teenage prostitute in the film.

Yet, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), the anti-hero of the narrative, is not a simple, doltish character in a two-dimensional cartoonish world that we are supposed to unquestionably consume and worship, or reject, outright. Taxi Driver continues to affect us precisely because of the complexities beneath its clotted surface; it presents the viewer with immediate gratification and thrills from a netherworld, but one which is permeated by a perpetually shifting moral invective that still has relevancy today…


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