While “Goodfellas” introduced me to the powerful cinema of Martin Scorsese and became my all time favorite movie, it was “Taxi Driver” that really shaped how I see movies today. Before seeing it, I was always tried to avoid the ones would make me sad or which were too dark. This was a result of my parents having to carry me out of “Star Trek II” and “E.T.” as I sobbed uncontrollably like the family dog had died completely unable to accept the resolution of either film. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that to my family again, especially with my older brother who was getting embarrassed by it.
Unlike Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” which was immensely entertaining and had great comic moments, “Taxi Driver” is dark, dark, dark. There is nothing the least bit glamorous as we watch the main character of Travis Bickle get continually sucked into an environment he deeply despises. I kept waiting for him to have sort of redemption, maybe have another chance with Cybil Shepherd. But as we reach the movie’s bloody conclusion, I realized that there was nowhere for him to go but down. While the reaction to Travis’ actions was surprising, we all know the truth about him and realize something will set him off again before we know it.
Once the end credits went up, my dad asked me what I thought about it. My initial reaction was that it was not exactly enjoyable. My dad’s response to this has always stayed with me:
“Not all movies are meant to be enjoyed. Some are meant to be experienced.”
Looking back, I can see what he meant. Look, there are a lot of reasons to not make a movie about someone like Travis Bickle; he’s seriously nuts, not a good date if you want to see something other than a porno, and watching him lose his mind is painful. But the thing about “Taxi Driver” is that people like Travis exist, and turning a blind eye to their existence does us no good. We need to understand why people do the things they do. It’s like what Roger Ebert said in his review of the film:
“Scorsese wanted to look away from Travis’s rejection; we almost want to look away from his life. But he’s there, all right, and he’s suffering.”
With “Taxi Driver,” I came to see that you need these kinds of movies just as much as you need escapist entertainment. Some movies need to shine a light on the darker parts of human nature to remind us that we to acknowledge that we have a dark side and realize we have more in common with Travis Bickle than we would ever care to think.
Since watching “Taxi Driver,” I have become completely open to movies that disturb me or take me on a journey I would not want to endure in real life. I can’t stand to watch films in a passive manner; I want to be moved by what I see, be disturbed, be shaken, or even be made to weep. Movies are too powerful an art form to be made just for the sake of entertainment. There are so many things about the human existence that deserve to be captured on celluloid, and audiences crave them just like they would the next “Harry Potter” movie.
“Taxi Driver” is my second favorite movie of all time, right behind “Goodfellas.” It is a movie I admire above so many others, and I still watch it on DVD from time to time.