Mythology Cinema and Myth: Taxi Driver Essay

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Mythology

Cinema and Myth: Taxi Driver and Mythical Form

Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is a prime example of a filmic representation of the Campbellian mythical structure, a trajectory in which the protagonist undergoes a journey in which they acquire value knowledge or capabilities, finally returning at the conclusion of the story, endowed with the knowledge gleaned from their journey. Typically, the hero sacrifices their newfound capabilities in order to assist other characters placed in compromising positions. Made in 1976,

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Taxi Driver coheres with such a structure. Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro) begins the film as a taxi driver who works late at night. His profession is portrayed as a type of alienated labor, and Scorsese makes expressive use of the separation between the front and back seat of the taxi cab in order to emphasize Bickle's loneliness. His loneliness is compounded by the fact that his hometown is never disclosed (outside of the fact that it is not New York City) and despite being 26 years of age, he has no love interest. Scorsese goes to great lengths to expose the hellish, lonely landscape in which Travis lives; despite working as a taxi driver (a profession that would seemingly necessitate a loquacious sensibility), Travis rarely engages in any substantive conversations, beyond discussing the basics associated with his business. After the film's opening, Scorsese compounds Travis' loneliness by exposing the New York City landscape as seedy. In an early scene, Travis attends a porn film, not out of a desire to satisfy a sexual urge but simply because he is not aware that it is different from a Hollywood studio film. Having established the grimy environs in which Travis lives, the film's narrative works toward overcoming a landscape filled with despair.

Essay on Mythology Cinema and Myth: Taxi Driver and Assignment

Travis' job as a taxi driver represents an ideal profession for the Campbellian mythical structure. The car is constantly in motion, making it so that he is perpetually engaged in a journey. Moreover, his taxi driving is often portrayed in tracking shots that literalize the motion with which he is constantly engaged. As he is constantly on the job (working at least 12 hours per day), he acquires a great deal of knowledge concerning the goings-on of a morally bankrupt cityscape. As an example of the type of illicit behavior witnessed by Travis while on the job, one of his passengers (played by the film's director, Martin Scorsese) states that he is about to kill his wife and her lover. The hellish landscape in which Travis drives about night after night is conveyed with frightful alacrity. The scenes in which he drives through the streets are portrayed in slow tracking shots with illicit activity and garish, neon lights in the background; the protracted length of the shots has the queasy effect of projecting the seedy landscape, and the scene has the symbolic resonance of a boat traversing the underworld, floating along the River Styx. Moreover, the musical score for the film was designed by Bernard Herrmann, who had designed the musical accompaniment for a number of films by Alfred Hitchcock, such as Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). Appropriately, the percussive rhythms of Taxi Driver allude to the sinister plots of Hitchcock's films, and accentuate the immorality and criminal activity that takes place within the plot. Such moral depravity is unacceptable within Hollywood cinema, and the Travis' journey will work to overcome such criminality.

At first glance, Taxi Driver evinces the salient characteristics of any other Hollywood film; Travis is a male-protagonist, in accordance with David Bordwell, Kristen Thompson, and Janet Staiger's outline for the Classical Hollywood Hero.

However, Travis differs in important ways from the Hollywood protagonist outline delineated in the Classical Hollywood Cinema. For example, at the start of the film, it becomes clear that Travis drifts about his life aimlessly, bereft of any tangible goals. This is in stark contrast with the Hollywood hero, who typically possesses two immediately apparent goals: one is an action-driven goal, typically involving the overcoming of a main obstacle; the other is a romantic goal, generally related to winning over the woman of one's dreams. Not only does Travis have no clear goals with regard to his profession, but he has no clear love interest from the start either. As a result, Taxi Driver adopts a somewhat picaresque form in which the hero journeys in search of tangible goals and a love interest.

One night, while driving his taxi, Travis spots a beautiful blond woman named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd.) He becomes smitten with her and she agrees to go on a date with him; they meet over coffee and pie at a local coffee shop. However, despite working up the courage to ask Betsy on a date, Travis remains far more passive than the average Hollywood hero. For example, he does not make any romantic overtures, nor does he appear to harbor any great desire to engage in sexual relations with her. There develops a strange dichotomy whereby Travis makes overtures towards women (including the strange episode in which he asks the attendant working at the adult movie theater on a date) yet remains remarkably passive, refraining from initiating any sexual overtures around women. Travis' sexual restraint has the effect of framing his actions toward women as not selfish in nature but rather sacrificial, as though he simply wanted to provide his (platonic) companionship. Indeed, Betsy does appear to enjoy Travis' company (despite exhibiting apparent sympathy for what she perceives as a sorrowful existence for him) and she expounds at length over her lonely life and stressful occupation as a volunteer for the local senator's campaign for the presidential nomination. In a subsequent scene, Travis takes Betsy on a date to a Swedish adult film; disgusted by the innuendo of Travis' action, she flees from him. The early scenes of the film demonstrate how while Travis is a hero who has embarked upon a journey, he nevertheless begins the film as a very passive hero, such that the film works toward him becoming a more active (action) hero, in the tradition of 1970s action films such as French Connection (1972), or a tradition of older, film noir movies in which the action hero undergoes a journey in order to protect the dangerous predicaments of those around him.

An additional way in which Travis represents a passive hero is that he keeps a diary, which is dictated by him in voiceover. Travis discloses a great deal concerning his feelings, talking at length about his loneliness and observations. The voiceover has the effect of distancing sound from image, as Travis becomes mildly disembodied from his character shown on screen. For example, while in the coffee shop with Betsy, he states that she "could have had anything in the world," a remark that was not necessarily conveyed through the corresponding close-up of his face. The diary and voiceover also demonstrate a heightened level of introspection that is unusual for a hero of classical narration and Hollywood cinema. Indeed, Travis exhibits a very sharp awareness of the world around him, and in voiceover he repeatedly dictates percipient observations expurgating the moral squalor of the world around him.

Certainly, Travis' introspection is unusual for a Hollywood hero, although it is consonant with the brooding self-awareness characteristic of the male melodrama, a subset of the Hollywood melodrama that was popular in the 1950s through characters like those of James Dead in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) or East of Eden (1955), as well as that of Marlon Brando in on the Waterfront (1954). In each of these instances, the character's exhibit acute awareness of the fact that they are placed in an environment that restricts their potential for realizing the goals that are established, and Travis Bickle's character assimilates with such a model.

One of the scenes that first portray Travis developing into an active character is his initial encounter with Iris (Jodi Foster), a 12-year-old child prostitute. Iris enters his cab while fleeing from Sport (Harvey Keitel), her abusive pimp. However, Travis (still an overly passive character at this point in the film) fails to drive off quickly enough and Sport catches up to the car and tears Iris away from the cab.

One of the ways in which Taxi Driver is unusual is that Travis' journey toward becoming more active involves him acquiring an irascible temperament in which he becomes mad at the world. In a protracted scene, he purchases two suitcases filled with guns from a private weapons dealer. Scorsese films the scene with very little cutting and the camera lingers over the guns lustfully, with long-take panning shots that reveal the guns in close up. Travis picks up each of the guns, and mimics firing them while staring directly into the camera. The lack of dialogue in the scene establishes a latent eroticism between Travis and the guns, and indeed, the guns represent a phallic power that Travis has purchased. The association between Travis' newly purchased ammunition and sexual prowess becomes literalized through a sequence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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