Taxi Driver 40th anniversary: Five ways the movie affected pop culture
One imagines that Travis Bickle didn’t have much of a celebration with friends for his 40th. But we’re not going to be so anti-social about his movie. It was on this date 40 years ago that moviegoers were asked a simple, menacing question by a troubled man staring in the mirror: “Are you talkin’ to me?”
In a movie routinely regarded today as among the best ever made, that improvised line was both a challenge and a cry for help. Taxi Driver was Martin Scorsese’s fifth feature film but became the one that profoundly elevated the then-33-year-old director to the top rank of American filmmakers. In May of 1976, the movie won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and later – despite its very early release date and psychological blackness – it scored a best picture Oscar nomination, losing to Rocky.
The film chronicles the disquieting life of a sleepless outsider named Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), traversing the dark abyss of New York City in his yellow cab, and eventually transforming into a mohawked killer as he hunts the pimp (Harvey Keitel) of a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) whom Bickle has befriended. (The supporting cast also includes Cybil Shepherd, Albert Brooks and Scorsese himself as a disturbed taxi passenger.)
The story is a deep dive into the alienation of what was then — and still is — modern society. Screenwriter Paul Schrader wrote the film during a suicidal period in his life. Scorsese was inspired by both films about loners — particularly John Ford’s haunting The Searchers — and the 1972 assassination attempt on Alabama governor George Wallace by a friendless introvert who wanted to murder Wallace for no other reason than his own attention seeking.
How much times have (obviously not) changed. Here a five people and projects that have reverberated with the influence of Taxi Driver in the four decades since its release.
The Pulp Fiction filmmaker ranks Taxi Driver in his top five of greatest movies of all time – though the movie’s hyper-violent tone, especially in its last third, is not what Tarantino picks out. In this video review from 2015, QT says, “It may be the greatest first-person character study ever committed to film.”
When this penetrating drama came out in 2014, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, an aspiring photojournalist with a personality that could kill house plants, was regularly cited as a DNA match for De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Favorably, too.
The King of Comedy
Scorsese’s eternally underrated 1983 movie once again stars De Niro, this time as a loner named Rupert Pupkin, who lives in his mothers basement and worships a Carson-esque talk show host (played by Jerry Lewis). In its squirmy details and brilliant analysis of how television obsession can deform the mind, the film is perhaps even more relevant to our current society than its cinematic ancestor.
David Fincher’s galvanizing 1999 adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel and Taxi Driver are both “about a lonely, disgruntled twenty/thirty something year old man with mental issues,” as one Reddit user laid out recently in an wonderfully exhaustive post. The comparison between the two movies don’t stop there. (And neither do, by extension, the comparisons between the Scorsese masterpiece and USA’s Mr. Robot.)
John Hinckley Jr.
In one of the more twisted examples of art imitating life (and vice versa), 26-year-old Hinckley became so obsessed with both Taxi Driver and especially Jodie Foster (who was 14 when she filmed her role in the film) that he attempted to assassinate then-president Ronald Reagan. After a seven-week trial (in which Foster was called to testify), Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insantity.