TAXI DRIVER: An epitome of psychological immersion

Looking at Cinema, from the way of consumption, can be categorized broadly into two types: Immersive and Deconstructive. While, deconstructive works require a certain detachment, a distance, in order to incur a response that is prominently intellectual, it is easy to understand why immersive cinema is the most consumed, perhaps most produced as well, for it fulfills one of our deepest desires – to experience a life other than ours. Cinema is reflection of Life. And though, in a different sense, this can be said for many art-forms, no other art-form comes as close to imitating our experience of existence, as cinema does. Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver becomes a testimony of this, for it touches on many universal themes with film techniques that ensure an uncannily visceral experience.

Paul Schrader, the screenwriter, explains in his commentary – “You know, occasionally in art, you get lucky and you’re at the right place at the right time with the right people. And I think, that was the case with Taxi Driver. Three people coming together at a certain point in their lives all needing to say the same thing.” The biggest highlight of Taxi Driver is its identifiability with individuals, which remains intact to this day. It is not an exaggeration to say that all the people in our world have felt an internal suffocation towards certain elements around them, that they attribute immoral. We observe, judge and react to many things involuntarily, as a subconscious reflex. Scorsese builds on that very idea, constantly keeping us right next to Travis, at times putting us inside his head. We see things the way he sees it, his thoughts become our thoughts. The use of narration is a stroke of genius here, for it is not used as exposition but as an ambiance to the imagery. In this world, the pain of thoughts is much greater than any physical wounds, exemplified by the camera movement when Travis is rejected by the woman that he deeply desired, while the climactic violence is blatantly in our face. The very story of our urban isolation, especially crystal clear in today’s psychological climate.

Also, beyond this narrative, is a masterful vision of the medium, which set the aesthetics of vibrant neo-noirs to come later. Michael Chapman, the cinematographer, and Scorsese clearly understood, what light did to film noir, can be done with colors to neo-noir. The flurry of colors & glitter of New York is not without the darkness surrounding it. Chapman’s camera captures details of Travis’ taxi, his apartment, his surroundings with an impeccable richness, yet without sensationalizing any of it even for a moment. At the same time, Bernard Herrmann’s soothing score often shifts the shape from meditating over character of the city to a haunting foundation for personal thoughts to wander off. The score is really a unique blend. While watching the film, it feels inseparable, and yet a listen to just the soundtrack is a completely different experience, at times almost opposite to the effect of the film.

Scorsese termed Taxi Driver as his most feminist film, and while it is easy to misunderstand that statement, I feel that at least couple of different meanings of it make complete sense. Feminism, in my opinion, is about bringing women to the same social status as men and not about replacing patriarchy with matriarchy. Most importantly, it is about liberation of the oppressed. On the surface, Travis, as he thinks, is trying to liberate women that he feels are trapped under wrong, immoral men. And, in a different sense, Travis is trying to liberate himself from the oppression he feels from the society.

Cinema is a collaborative art-form, and hence, while the collaboration can truly enrich a work, there is an equal chance that its singularity might get lost in the process. However, Taxi Driver stands tall as that rare piece, where the vision of multiple individuals enhances the singularity of the work. Schrader wrote the almost autobiographical screenplay from a completely personal space, De Niro internalized Travis by professionally driving taxi for months, and Scorsese chose the perfect formal elements and techniques that would consistently enhance the film as an immersive, personal experience. I have no doubt that Taxi Driver will remain a timeless fable for any society.

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