” As you know, madness is like gravity…all it takes is a little push.”
The Joker – Heath Ledger
Who is Travis Bickle or more importantly what is Travis Bickle? A question that plagues the mind of every curious cinephile. Martin Scorsese in ‘Taxi Driver’ created arguably the most labyrinthine character in all cinema. A character that matched the contours of Daniel Plainview, created much later (There will be blood, 2007). Scorsese depicts a disillusioned society, so indifferent to its own decay that it slowly fades into oblivion. America from Bickle’s perspective has turned into a chamber of slow poison without an exit. A chamber where violence and deceit reign supreme.
An apparently baffled individual roams around the elusive light and the overpowering darkness of New York, the streets of forgotten dreams and abandoned hope. One is always befuddled while locating the cause of such prolonged disillusionment. The Vietnam War for one shattered a few perspectives. Like Blake’s leap from innocence to experience (from the oppression of the poor by the rich to the reign of terror) the inhabitants of New York suffer from the disease of enlightenment.
As if the monster they were looking for outside their houses was enjoying a nice cup of coffee inside themselves in broad daylight. Bickle’s submission to the snares of madness is just another reminder of the unconscious despair of the American mass. Like everyone Bickle has that one shot at redemption. He must rescue a young girl from the pangs of ferocious monsters who have trapped her inside a world of darkness. Bickle sees himself in the young girl, his defeats in her sighs, his victories in her smile.
Bickle tries to rescue two individuals at one go, from the doors of hell to an unknown future of possibilities, positive ones perhaps. Bickle finds no joy in his interactions with individuals, his amorous encounters appear hollow to him and his profession appears hardly satisfactory. However his profession allows him a chance at understanding the darkness around him. Travis Bickle finds it extremely difficult trying to locate himself in a fixed position.
The film dexterously moves from a position of general indifference to total chaos. The chaos outside could also indicate the chaos inside the mind of Bickle. The agony of losing himself forever in the banalities of the world, the total erosion of love and passion. Here like Bickle dreams die a million deaths. These deaths torment the individual minds so much that a physical death hardly causes a stir. Redemption in ‘Taxi Driver’ is almost a paradox, like a desire of loving vision when one is eternally blind.
One of Robert De Niro’s greatest performances till date if not the greatest, ‘Taxi Driver’ was a humble gift given to us by Martin Scorsese. It is a film that people construct and deconstruct, relish and abhor every day. It aims to reveal the cunning machinations of the mind, the fall of an individual and the decay of a forgetful society. It is the perfect premise for Simon and Garfunkel’s song ‘The Sound of Silence’, a world where people always hear while they seldom listen.