Yet, it does not come soon enough for Travis who can’t take any more of this ‘open sewer’ of a city. The sphere of Iris as the sought-for person is particularly interesting as it breaks many conventions. Turner notes that the object of rescue, Iris, does not wish to be rescued. In A Cinema Without Walls, Taxi Driver is described as “a movie about a partially psychotic individual’s self-characterization of himself as the savior of whom he seems to substitute for his displaced passion for the female handler of a political candidate .
” This raises an interesting point that it is Travis who has made Iris into an object to be rescued. This can effect the audience by leaving an impression that his motives for killing Sport are questionable and even futile. The fact that Corrigan writes about Travis’s “displaced passion” for Betsy, who at the start of the film occupied the sought-for, princess sphere, brings to light Travis’s struggle to understand perhaps what women want. This may distance the viewer, in particular female viewers, further from Travis.
Levi-Strauss (1966), as documented in Film As Social Practice, suggests that a feature of mythologies is their dependence upon ‘binary oppositions. ‘ By establishing a conflict between a pair of mutually exclusive opposing forces, this is one way of determining meaning. We define things not only in terms of what they are but in terms of what they are not. For example, ‘Man’ means ‘not woman’ and ‘not boy. ‘ Turner concludes from this that by placing things in existing categories these oppositions can ‘breed,’ producing further transformations of the same binary pattern.
However, in Taxi Driver the pattern is harder to follow. The average example of male/female, strong/weak, rational/emotional falls apart when comparing Travis and Iris as a pair of opposing forces. Travis isn’t rational, he is on the verge of psychopathy. Turner writes, normally in films “a simple binary system is set up in which we measure good and bad through the determining category of the good hero. ” Travis is surely the hero, but is he a ‘good’ hero?
In fact it is hard to draw oppositions between Travis and the Villain, Sport, as both are strong males who use forceful methods and generally their actions are morally questionable. This can affect the audience by making them question their ideas about how a hero should act. More specifically, the viewer may notice that Scorcese, the director of Taxi Driver, is painting a picture which shows that there is no black and white. Sport is bad, Travis is bad and Iris doesn’t wish to be rescued. This challenges viewers expectations about film narrative but also makes the film seem more realistic and confrontational.
The binary oppositions are almost present in Travis himself, as Betsy puts it (quoting Kris Kristofferson) “He’s a prophet and a pusher/ Partly truth, partly fiction/ A walking contradiction. ” Travis worries about a young girl’s future and innocence yet uses murder to reach his ends. Travis doesn’t believe “one should devote his life to morbid self-attention” yet enters into a fanatical fitness regime and poses in front of the mirror. Travis claims not to be a “pusher” yet admits to repeatedly phoning Betsy until she agrees to go on a second date.
This reveals to the audience Travis’s self-destructive tendencies as he loathes his contradicting side. Paul Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver, in an interview in Hollywood Cinema, comments that Travis’s self-destructive impulse, instead of being inner-directed, has become outer-directed. “At the end when Travis is shooting himself playfully,” Paul explains, “that’s what he has been trying to do all along. ” Todorov (1977) sees narrative beginning in a stable point of equilibrium or, as Turner notes, what he calls a state of ‘plenitude.
‘ This equilibrium is then disrupted by some power or force which results in a state of disequilibrium. Another force must act on this disrupting force to restore equilibrium. However to prove the process isn’t entirely circular, this new plenitude is not entirely the same as the original equilibrium. In An Introduction to Film Studies, Rowe writes, “Travis is not so much driven into disequilibrium by external events, his meetings with Betsy, the appearance of Iris and Sport in his cab, as by his determined drive to transform the world.
” The Media Students Book points out that another part of the construction of narratives involves the voice telling the story. This is very important to how the story will be interpreted by the audience and with which characters their affiliations will lie. “A first person narrative will use ‘I’ as the voice of the teller and should not give the reader access to events which that ‘I’ could not have witnessed or known of” (MSB). Taxi Driver seems very much like a first person narrative as we follow Travis everywhere and we hear his narration as he writes in his diary.
Yet there are several scenes, involving Iris and Sport, and Betsy and Tom, without Travis which contradicts this idea. This leaves open to speculation whether this is what he thinks they are saying. This is possible as in these scenes, Travis is never far away, either loitering outside or about to enter the location. This can affect the audience by distancing them from Travis, even if temporarily, to see ‘normal’ people interacting. As Travis says: “I’m God’s lonely man. ” Mise-en-scene can be an important part of a viewer’s sense of narrative.
I shall look at the mise-en-scene of a short scene from Taxi Driver and the effects it has on the audience: The scene begins with music that is very fast and fluctuating and emphasizes that a change is in progress. Travis is cleaning his boots and sharpening a knife. The audience do not see much of Travis’s face through out these shots as they are very tight close-ups which often crop out his head completely. We are left unsure of his emotions as we are denied his facial expressions, so we have to make assumptions based on his actions. Travis burns Betsy’s flowers which could be interpreted as a vengeful act.
Travis also tapes a knife to his boot which, we are aware from earlier scenes, he is well practiced in removing quickly. This has an effect of building up to the final battle. The music suddenly becomes more upbeat as Travis puts money in a letter to Iris. The shot is closely framed and we can only see the back of his head, making his feelings unknown to us. Travis narrates as the music becomes more ominous and threatening. The scene cuts to the Palantine rally. Travis emerges from his taxi, his head is still cropped out of shot, but by now the audience has become accustomed to this style of shot.
This adds extra emphasis and shock value when the camera abruptly pans up to Travis’s Mohican hair. The extremity of the hair cut matches the extremity of his actions. Travis’s costume, of Indian and Vietnam Vet, underlines how he doesn’t wish to fit in with society, not wanting to participate in what he has witnessed in his cab. Corrigan suggests that this is a case of Generic Hysteria where “one history and culture is madly trying not to fit into but hide behind the representations of another history and culture.
” The ending of the film fits in with audience expectations of a ‘happy ending’ as the hero lives. Yet, as we hear that Iris is having “trouble” adjusting back at home and the fact that Travis is back to ‘normal’, we are left with an uneasy feeling that not all the loose ends have been tied up. Even Travis leaves the viewer with a final confused look in the rear view mirror which is startling and unnerving. In conclusion, I feel that there are many possible effects on the audience which might be argued to flow from the narrative construction of Taxi Driver.
Bibliography Bordwell, D and Thompson, Film Art An Introduction, McGraw-Hill (1993) Branston, G and Stafford, The Media Students Book, Rutledge (1996) Cook, The Cinema Book, B. F. I (1985) Corrigan, T. A Cinema Without Walls – Movies and Culture after Vietnam Routledge Maltby, R and Craven, I Hollywood Cinema Blackwell (1995) Nelmes, J (ed) An Introduction to Film Studies (Ch 4: Film form and narrative by Allan Rowe) Routledge Turner, G Film as social practice (Ch 4) 2nd Edition, Routledge (1996).