We are first introduced to Travis Bickle in extreme close-up, his eyes huge mirrors to a lost soul. Scorsese cuts to a smeared world haunted by colorfast ghosts while Bernard Herrmann’s breezy score becomes infused with thunderclouds. This juxtaposition sets the tone, a violent duality of a lonely man slowly detaching from the world.
The city of Travis Bickle is a whisper at the edge of reason, inhibited by predators and unwary prey, that stalk the refuse of this steel jungle. Director Martin Scorsese captures New York City in the bright neon like a hooker’s lipstick, a red gash of sharp teeth, with a poetic majesty of primary colors beckoning their lush carnal desires. Though Travis is caught in his own personal trap, the film isn’t a polemic against the Vietnam War or corrupt politicians, it is simply a modern tale of isolation in a city of millions.
Robert DeNiro’s commanding performance as the askew protagonist is both charming and brutal, imbued with empathy and apathy. His eyes reflect nothing but see everything, a man who has become as mechanical as his taxi. He is a sociopath when he focuses his rage upon a Presidential Candidate but a hero when he carries out his vendetta against a Pimp; Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader dance this macabre pirouette, this violent ballet of social perspective. The final bloodletting is ejaculatory for Bickle, an expungement of pent-up frustrations. He imagines himself the rain that has come to wash the trash and stink from the streets.
Final Grade: (A+)