Taxi Driver is a Superhero Movie

Sep 01 2010

Here’s the plot of a movie:

A regular guy grows increasingly frustrated by the crime and evil that surrounds him on the streets of New York. So he gains the power to fight back, then sees a young girl in trouble and saves her from the men who’ve kidnapped and drugged her for money.

That’s the plot of Taxi Driver.

Three things intrigued me most while watching this film for the first time last week:

1) I thought Taxi Driver was about Travis Bickle’s rise and fall. That’s not accurate. It’s about Travis’s increasing disgust with the depravity around him. It’s about a man who just can’t take it any more. He wants to be a hero. He’s capable of evil, certainly–he nearly shoots a politician just for being a politician (okay, it’s more complicated than that, but still)–but it’s because he cares about people. Every one of Travis’s violent acts results from Travis seeing someone suffer, and his desire to end that suffering.

2) This is one of those films that has everybody in it. I recognized most of the faces.

3) If you want to know why people consider the 1970’s the Nadir of Western Civilization, Taxi Driver provides all the evidence you need. Now, yes, the film intentionally focuses on the worst parts of 1970’s New York City, but from what I’ve seen and read and heard from those who lived it, Taxi Driver is accurate. No wonder post-apocalyptic films took off; no wonder kids inhaled comic books. The apocalypse seemed like the only logical conclusion to the decay, and the only logical escape was into a fantasy world of spandex-clad superheroes who could stop a nuclear bomb by pointing a magical ring at it.

In such a dark world, heroism became twisted. Twisted into forms like Travis Bickle.

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