Taxi DriverTrevor Lynch
I am inaugurating a series on Classics of Right-Wing Cinema with Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver. For the purposes of this series, what makes a film “Right-wing” is its subject matter, its message, or simply how it resonates with people on the Right, regardless of the filmmaker’s intent. Please feel free to nominate films for this series in the comments below.
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It began with Dylann Roof. Since then, the Molotov cocktail of autism, inceldom (involuntary celibacy), gallantry, vengeance, and mass murder has exploded with such regularity that I keep dusting off a boilerplate article to condemn it whenever the perpetrators are connected with White Nationalism. But even with Roof’s case, I felt that I had seen this all before. Then I remembered where: Taxi Driver.
Taxi Driver is Martin Scorsese’s breakout film and remains one of his greatest achievements, alongside Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Gangs of New York. Taxi Driver is an unforgettable portrait of Travis Bickle, an alienated loner in an urban hellscape who decides to die in a hail of bullets and thus seeks out opportunities to dispense vigilante justice. Despite his best efforts, however, Travis accidentally survives and is hailed as a hero for rescuing a child prostitute from a pimp.
Any movie involving vigilantism is inherently anti-liberal, which makes it grist for Right-wing viewers and reviewers, regardless of the vigilante’s or the director’s intentions. Liberalism is the idea that we can be governed by laws, not men. Vigilantism takes place when the legal system breaks down and citizens feel the need to take action themselves. But Taxi Driver is even more Right-wing today because this is the age of the Alt-Right and incel spree killer.
Taxi Driver fuses urban grittiness and emotional power with daring avant-garde cinematic techniques. Even though it was made on a shoestring budget, everything about this film is first-rate: the script by Paul Schrader (who went on to write and direct Mishima); the performances, especially Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle and Jodie Foster as Iris, a twelve-year-old prostitute; the cinematography of Michael Chapman; and the lyrical but also menacing musical score by Bernard Herrmann (his last, before dying of a heart attack, aged sixty-four).
Taxi Driver was a commercial and critical success. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 1976, as well as many other nominations and awards. Taxi Driver is also regularly featured on critics’ “best” lists.
So who is Travis Bickle? Travis Bickle is a twenty-six-year-old honorably discharged Marine from someplace where they wear cowboy clothes. He has drifted away from home and family to New York City at its low-point in the sleazy seventies: corrupt, crime-ridden, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and swarming with rats, junkies, pimps, hookers, and other vermin. Taxi Driver was shot during the heatwave of 1975. You can practically feel it. There was a sanitation strike. You can practically smell it.
Travis suffers from insomnia. And we know from Fight Club how crazy lack of sleep can make you. His insomnia might have something to do with his diet of junk food and steady consumption of alcohol from paper bags and flasks. He also pops pills from prescription bottles. We don’t know if they are uppers, downers, or anti-psychotics.
To while away his sleepless nights, Travis has been hanging out at porn theaters and all-night eateries, but at the beginning of the film, he takes a job driving a cab. He is looking for long, exhausting, draining hours, so he can finally sleep.
Travis is also desperately lonely: “Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. . . . I’m God’s lonely man.” He tries to connect with his fellow cabbies. But, being on the night-shift, they are almost as weird and asocial as he is.
One day, Travis becomes infatuated with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign worker for Senator Charles Palantine, who is running in his party’s presidential primary. (His party is not stated, but he’s clearly supposed to be a Democrat.) Betsy is beautiful. Travis believes she is lonely too. After watching her for a while, he walks into the office and asks her on a date. Betsy accepts. Travis is strange, but he’s not bad-looking and has an off-kilter charisma.
Travis blows it on their second date, however, when he takes her to a pornographic movie. It is painfully awkward. After that, he is reduced to increasingly desperate stalking behavior. He is convinced that Betsy needs saving from her lonely, hellish existence, and he becomes increasingly indignant that she does not want to be saved.
The choice to take Betsy to a dirty movie makes it abundantly clear that Travis has issues. So does a bizarre greeting card that he sends to his parents. He has a shaky grasp of socially appropriate behavior.
Travis spends too much time alone. He broods and ruminates. He tells Wizard, one of his fellow drivers played by Peter Boyle, “I got some bad ideas in my head.” Travis does not, however, come off as delusional. Instead, he is angry at the sleaze and injustice that surround him: “All the animals come out at night. Whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies. Sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash this scum off the streets.” He becomes increasingly vengeful. He starts thinking that maybe he will be that rain, a hard rain.
One wonders, though, why Travis continues to subject himself to this world. Not every city is as dystopian as New York. He could also focus on better neighborhoods and better fares. But he doesn’t. The truth is that Travis is a glutton for punishment. He has a masochistic, self-defeating personality.
Travis does not fantasize about making the world a better place for himself. He doesn’t feel he has a future. Instead, he fantasizes about dying honorably. He is what I call an “honorable defeatist.” He feels doomed to failure, so to salvage some sense of agency and worth, he wants to take control of the process and destroy himself over a matter of principle.
When I first saw Taxi Driver, I assumed Travis suffered from post-traumatic stress from his time in the Marines. Perhaps he saw action in Vietnam. But there is no mention of serving in Vietnam. There are no flashbacks. Also, Travis lies to his parents and then to Iris, saying he is doing secret work for the government. Maybe he was lying about the Marines too.
Today, I look at Travis and see someone on the autism spectrum who is also an incel. He does not present as a schizophrenic, like John Hinckley, Jr., who was inspired by Taxi Driver to shoot President Reagan, or like mass shooters Jared Loughner and James Holmes. Instead, he seems a lot like Dylann Roof, Patrick Crusius, Brenton Tarrant, and John Earnest: all ideologically motivated honorable defeatists.
Betsy isn’t the only object of Travis’ gallantry. He also wants to rescue Iris, a twelve-year-old prostitute from a pimp played by Harvey Keitel. Originally, the pimp was supposed to be black. There are plenty of black pimps on the streets in Taxi Driver. But Schrader thought it might be somehow “racist” to cast a black actor in this particular role. It is not clear why it was not “anti-Semitic” to cast Keitel though.
When his relationship with Betsy goes south, Travis buys some guns and learns to use them. He begins dieting and exercising. He is training for some sort of confrontation with evil. He is not planning on surviving. He enjoys the sense of purpose. He may even enjoy some sleep.
Is Travis a psycho or a hero? A case can be made for both.
Travis is gallant. He is a knight, a warrior. It is manly and noble to protect weaker people, especially women and children, from evil. It is also the height of nobility to be concerned solely with doing one’s duty, regardless of personal consequences. Whether Travis was really in the Marines or not, he prefers death to dishonor. He will do the right thing, even if it kills him.
So how is Travis a psycho?
Travis’s first target is Senator Charles Palantine. Why shoot Palantine? Travis doesn’t really care about politics. He has no strong feelings about the candidate or the issues. He was ready to vote for Palantine when he was infatuated with Betsy. Now that she has dumped him, he wants to kill Palantine. Travis originally wanted to help Betsy. It is not clear how killing Palantine would do that. Maybe he is trying to hurt her. But he’s just a political candidate. How much emotional investment does Travis think she has in him?
Perhaps, then, Travis’ purpose is not connected to Betsy. Palantine has a Secret Service detail. If Travis shoots Palantine and exchanges fire with the Secret Service, he will probably be killed. That’s his real goal.
Travis can also count on the fact that by killing a political candidate, he will be famous. He won’t be around for a trial, so people will speculate about his motives. Some will construct accounts of his crime that cast him in a noble light. In short, Travis is a pathological narcissist. He’s another Herostratus, who burned the temple of Artemis in Ephesus so we would talk about him today.
The problem with Travis is not that he is willing to die to do the right thing. The problem is that his primary goal is to die, for which he is willing to do anything, even wrong or stupid things.
Disaster is averted, however, when Travis is spooked by Palantine’s Secret Service detail and runs away.
Travis’ next mission is to rescue Iris from her pimp. This is Taxi Driver’s intense and unforgettable climax. The whole sequence is an orgy of violence. But it is not clean and stylized violence. People don’t just die neatly after one shot. They suffer bloody wounds, scream and curse, then return fire. Travis is shot twice. He drops his first gun then empties three others to kill the pimp and a couple of goons, and he still has to pull a knife on one of them. Killing is hard, dirty, dangerous work. People just don’t want to die. Then, when his enemies are dispatched, Travis puts a gun to his head and finds it empty. Another gun is empty as well. Finally, the police arrive, standing in the doorway, stunned at the carnage. Travis pantomimes blowing his brains out with his finger than passes out from blood loss.
At this point, we see the whole abattoir from above. Scorsese and Chapman actually tore the ceiling out of the apartment and hallway and built a track allowing the camera to retrace the path of the carnage from above, as if we are seeing it from the eyes of Travis’ departing spirit.
The only thing that saves the scene from being a pure exercise in nihilistic aestheticism is Bernard Herrmann’s music. To a funeral drum, we hear the dissonant trumpet motive associated with Travis’ bad thoughts amidst swirling harp arpeggios that suggest the dissolution of the flesh. Then we hear the romantic saxophone theme associated with Travis’ gallantry dissonantly played on trumpets and low brass. Darkness has finally consumed him.
The scene was so shocking that Scorsese had to desaturate the film stock, toning down the blood, to secure an R rather than an X rating.
In the epilogue, we learn that Travis survived. When he wakes up from a coma, he is hailed as a hero for saving Iris. The world didn’t know that Iris’ rescue was just the accidental side-effect of a failed suicide attempt.
Travis goes back to driving a cab. Does he want to live after all?
One night, Betsy gets into his cab. She has heard about Travis’ heroism, and her disgust has clearly been replaced with admiration. But after Travis drops off Betsy, he is suddenly agitated by something he sees in the rear-view mirror, accompanied by a “sting” from the orchestra that sounds uncanny because it is played backwards.
It’s only a matter of time before Travis Bickle goes off again.
It is interesting to read the critical responses to Taxi Driver. The movie is a masterpiece and deserved praise regardless of whether you think Travis is a hero or a psycho or a little bit of both. Oddly enough, though, Travis himself was regarded with a great deal of sympathy.
The seventies were the decade of the anti-hero. The organs of the culture were by then firmly in the hands of the hostile elite. Thus the instinct of the critics was to weaponize anti-heroes like Bickle against the establishment, meaning against mainstream America. There was surely some hand-rubbing on both coasts when Reagan was shot by a wannabe Travis Bickle.
Today, the hostile elite is fully in control. They are the establishment. They want to hold on to their power. Thus they live in terror of Travis Bickles like Brenton Tarrant and Dylann Roof. Hence the cultural organs pushed back hard against Todd Phillips’ Joker, which owes a great deal to both Taxi Driver and Scorsese’s later DeNiro vehicle The King of Comedy.
Now that the Great Replacement is turning millions of young white men into Travis Bickles, a sympathetic portrayal of a white man turning into a murderous vigilante was deemed bad art. Joker was a dud, but Taxi Driver remains as explosive as ever. Thus it is a classic of Right-wing cinema.
The Unz Review, January 1, 2021
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The Banshees of Inisherin
My Salinger Year: Chamber Music for a Writer
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
I think Scorsese’s greatest achievement is “The King of Comedy,” which “Joker” may have plagiarized even more than “Taxi Driver.”
You’re right about wholesale plagiarism of The King of Comedy. Also, few seemed to spot the GG Allin ref in Joker, with his pretend girlfriend’s young daughter being called Gigi. Hated, the GG Allin doc was, of course, Joker director Todd Phillips’s first film.
I’d recommend the film Hardcore starring George C. Scott and Peter Boyle from 1979, which was directed by Paul Schrader(who wrote Taxi Driver). Anyone who’s seen the film 8MM will get the impression that Joel Schumacher borrowed a lot from Hardcore. It’s every bit as gritty and sleazy as Taxi Driver with great performances all around. The DVD is out of print but not impossible to find. Do yourself a favor and seek out this seldom seen masterpiece.
Hardcore was the first one that came to my mind as well. The digital version is easy to find. It’s a good choice.
I have an original, movie poster, of this film, from a California theatre….the posters they would place in the glass box….I lived thru this era, in Seattle, and saw our great cities, turned into urban hell zones….retired US Army…..100% PTSD……this film is me….
De Niro is such an enigma in this context. He’s almost pathologically deranged about Trump, but played the Antihero from the fringe of Alterity in an era when the political establishment was WASP while popular culture was Semitic. He must squirm everytime there’s a school shooting or rampage by a white man. King of Comedy and Taxi Driver were vehicles for subversion at the time but now they are virtual taboo.
Even better when one merges together in one’s mind Taxi Driver with Taxi the tv sitcom. Travis debates Judd Hirsch and Danny deVito with Andy Kaufman and Christopher Lloyd.
…Next envelope please…the greatest film of all time for portraying the shitfulness of ‘Liberalism’ as well as the triumph of good over evil whilst filled with gender and race realistic characters is ‘Dirty Harry’.
A film hailed by the Left as a masterpiece because it was held to be anti-war, anti-American, and anti-WASP but which did in fact resonate with the Right because it featured traditional huwhite themes of spirituality, higher calling, loyalty, duty, honour, and determination whilst hinting at the Real Enemy, and helping to erode the canard of German depravity would be ‘Patton’.
“Taxi Driver remains as explosive as ever”—The young ‘uns at Gamer Uprising would view the film as a Comedy of White Knighting.
It’s difficult to take Bickle seriously. At least the pathetic Joaquin Joker wanted to be something. Arguably the film does Taxi Driver better than Taxi Driver. Probably the lack of a love interest to bog things down by making it about pussy. The epilogue is a particularly nice point. Joker goes from killing out of loony desperation to killing because it’s funny. He’s matured!
The Dirty Harry sequels go from bad to worse and they showcase everything that could’ve been done to screw up the original. Give him a girlfriend. Give him a “rival”. Maybe he had a dog in the fifth one, I wasn’t really paying attention.
Why’s it so hard for vigilante films to get it right? Maybe the writers need to get laid less.
If I recall correctly, at the end if the film, Travis has some newspaper clippings on the wall. If you read closely, you can see that he was in special forces in Vietnam.
And De Niro wears an olive-green M-65 Field Jacket, as road-(jungle-)tested in Vietnam.
Mind you, I used to wear Doc Marten boots. That didn’t make me a skinhead.
Odd that Lynch reviews appear on unz.com three days before they appear on counter-currents.
The classic dystopian sci-fi flick Soylent Green would be a movie that should resonate to anyone who sees the two-headed monster of big government and big business being the real threat to the future of humanity, or at least a humanity that is not enslaved. Mankind (thanks to said monster) is over-crowded and under-fed. Now for the solution. No spoilers please for those that have seen it!
Here are a few suggestions.
Any movie in the Death wish series.
The Star Chamber- a vilgilante movie with Michael Dougless
Class of 1984
Alone in the Dark – early 80’s horror movie with Donald Pleasance
Class of 84! Beautiful satire! That’s like no white school I’ve ever been to! Only the music department seems to have something on the ball…
There’s a troika of “juvenile delinquent” movies from the early 80s which all seem to be about the piano boy. Heathers is the most produced and the only one which is widely remembered, probably because it had the greatest star power. Class of 84 is the best imho because of its underlying rightest slant, but also has some good actors. The least of them is about a boy in juvi, only memorable bc it has a young Shawn penn, but other wise about the level of a made for TV movie. That one which I can’t even recall the name of has the young guy who played the kurgan in Highlander as one of the inmates. He had a history!
I think the movie with Sean Penn is called -At Close range-
The Sean Penn film is called Bad Boys. Always remember seeing it as a teen (it came out in the early 80s) cos he fills a pillowcase with soda cans and beats the shuit out of a guy with it. Quite a memorable scene.
There seems to have been a lull in the rate of incel/altright shooters for the time being. I wonder why. Do yous think that the system crack down on our platforms has resolved the problem? Was there a causal relationship? Blm and antifa violence has been just as deadly and more costly in terms of property damage. Has that eclipsed spree shooter violence somehow, as if there is some chaos energy in the ether that is used up?
Schools being closed by covid has certainly impacted on the terrifying, horrifying and disgusting school shooting numbers.
Taxi Driver is a good movie, though a little overrated in my opinion. I definitely wouldn’t call it “right wing” in any way. It’s just a good view of the overall sleaziness of the time.
For my money one of the best scenes is where Bickle shoots the black robber in the bodega and the Puerto Rican shopkeeper beats the dead body with a crowbar while cursing at it in Spanish. Times were rough for everyone.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) – Based on a Rudyard Kipling short story. Sean Connery and Michael Caine play late 19th Century maverick soldiers in British Raj India who seek adventure and fortune at the ends of the Earth (somewhere beyond or in Afghanistan). They become conquerors of a “lost kingdom”. Quite a bit of Masonic symbolism thrown in. Watch out for the delightful scene on the train with Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer and an Indian gentlemen. Directed by John Houston.
Dogs In Space (1986) – Australian motion picture set in late ’70s working class suburban Melbourne. A group of teen and 20 somethings living in a dilapidated terrace house, some of them in the eponymous band trying to make it in the Punk Rock scene of that time. Directed by Richard Lowenstein (see early life) who may have been trying to romanticize and promote the era, life style etc. However, it depicts the nihilism and squalid wretchedness (drug use, poverty, promiscuity etc) that successive generations of White youth in the West were lead down. Stars Michael Hutchence and Saskia Post.
Re “The delightful scene on the train with Michael Caine and . . . an Indian gentleman” :
Back in the day, my family knew an Englishman who’d served in India during WWII. Travelling in a train carriage with a lone Indian, he thought him a suspicious-looking chap who was giving him “funny looks” so, rather than take any risks, he picked him up and threw him out of the moving train. As a boy I was horrified, but my mother(!) found his anecdote hilarious.
Non-judgmental movies about fascism!
One I’ve recommended before on C-C is the 1979 British heist movie “Sewers of Gold” (aka “The Great Riviera Bank Robbery”). “Sewers” is based on the true story of ex-OAS man Albert Spaggiari’s break-in at the Société Générale bank in Nice, France in 1976. They don’t downplay the right-wing motivations either: a meeting takes place under a swastika flag and a portrait of Hitler, and the purpose of the raid – to finance the smashing of The Reds – is repeatedly mentioned. Ian McShane is our hero.
“Frozen Silence” (2011) is a curiosity. A detective story set among the Blue Division – Spanish volunteers (Falangists) fighting alongside Germans on the Eastern Front.
There are also two celebrated British thrillers from the 1950s: “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” and “Chase a Crooked Shadow”. The reason I mention them is that they were both filmed in Franco’s Spain, which had a “shabby chic” appeal for retirees. It is inconceivable that similar movies could have been made in East Germany or Soviet Russia.
Umm, hold up. Lynch writes,
That html link is to an article by Greg Johnson. Is Lynch adopting an idea from GJ, or is GJ “Trevor Lynch”? If the latter, why the pseudonym?
Turning to the film … Although I haven’t seen Taxi Driver in many years, this review was better than most of what passes for regular news media reviews. Very clear rendition of the main plot and character points about the movie, and its thesis is well-argued. Still, I’m not totally convinced TD qualifies as “rightwing”. I never saw it that way, either when I first saw it in a college lecture hall used for weekend movies showings, 4-5 years after its release, nor when I finally saw it again, this time in a movie theater during one of those Turner Classics Movies showings in the last decade, 35 years give or take after my first viewing. It seemed more of an ideologically neutral character study of an individual (and city/society?) spiraling out of control. But I see now how it could be argued to be “rightwing” based on how it does or might resonate with the increasing number of “Bickleized” white men lost and alienated in our post-60s urban jungles. I might have to see it yet again.
As for suggestions for other rightist movies (remembering that “rightist” should be understood broadly as “anti-regnant-liberalism”; also that some movies might not be regarded as such by their makers), I’ve seen a lot of great movies over the past 45 years (and many not so great ones), but not that many which can really be called “rightwing”. BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, FIVE EASY PIECES, ROCKY, THE SHINING, SCARFACE, ALIENS, UNFORGIVEN, GLADIATOR, and many others, are great movies, but either apolitical or leftwing. A standard cop movie is not rightwing; nor is a battle in space. Comedies could be rightist, but I can’t recall any. Most dramas lack a political angle.
Some I remember (I’m forgetting multitudes):
DEATHWISH and DIRTY HARRY (obviously) (first ones in series only)
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
UNCUT GEMS (not a flattering picture of Jews)
THE RIGHT STUFF
ONLY THE BRAVE
RAMBO-LAST BLOOD (awful, but essentially anti-Mexican)
TAKEN (first one)
NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
HELL OR HIGH WATER (maybe, from a certain perspective)
BLACK HAWK DOWN
APOCALYPSE NOW (again, from the right perspective)
I forgot FALLING DOWN.
After “Lynch writes” in my above comment this excerpted passage was supposed to appear:
[Travis does not fantasize about making the world a better place for himself. He doesn’t feel he has a future. Instead, he fantasizes about dying honorably. He is what I call an “honorable defeatist.”]
I liked the vigilante movie Defiance (with Jan Michael Vincent) as a kid. It was generally accept back then that inner-city crime was perpetrated by non-whites against remaining whites.
Great movie, I haven’t seen Defiance in years. Another forgotten vilgilante movie is Hit! with Billy Dee Williams and richard pryor. One of the few dramatic roles for Pryor.
Get Carter is somewhat similar. Would be rather funny if Carter showed up with Bickle to remove the girl from the clutches of the pimp.
I was born and raised not far from Blackhall Colliery Beach, where the climactic scene takes place.
When I now recall passing the place it was always at night, cold, and with the rain pouring down, and The North Sea looking particularly lethal. I was horrified to learn later that the conveyor carrying the mining waste had been demolished. Another childhood memory desecrated!
Do “bonfire of vanities”. No better condemnation of chimpouts ever made!
I always took the end of Taxi Driver, with Bickle hailed as a hero, and being addressed by Iris’s parents, as some sort of sad wish fulfillment fantasy about how Travis wanted to be seen, either after his death or incarceration in a prison or mental hospital.
The fact he would visit Betsty again, and have her talk to him, is far-fetched in the extreme, especially as they still look the same age as when they first met. Bickle would be in hospital or prison for many years, and, after committing multiple murder, no matter what the reason, would never be allowed to work as a taxi driver again. If a criminal conviction did not disban him, his reputation for mental illness and extreme madness would certainly make any potential future taxi employer pause for thought.
The Iris/Betsy pieces at the end are a wish fulfillment for Travis, in that he has redeemed himself in the eyes of the females he cared about. In reality, he is a deeply shattered man mentally, emotionally, and physically, and would never be the same again. Just my take on things.
Your ‘death by cop’ angle was interesting, though, and something I had never considered before. But he was meant to be a Vietnam vet – he has an army Vietnam insignia on his jacket, and his mohawk haircut was one that soldiers in Vietnam were when they thought they were going to die.
A Man For All Seasons (1966) – A reactionary tale about a man standing fast against the tide of progressive thinking.
The Bounty (1984) – Captain Bligh is depicted as a dutiful, honourable patriot in comparison to the heckless Fletcher.
Brother 1 (1999) and Brother 2 (2000) – Gritty and skeletal Russian crime flicks showing the cultural/spiritual void in Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union. Brother 2 is also largely set in America and is the greatest takedown of Western Liberalism I’ve seen on screen from a right-wing perspective. I would also recommend all the other Alexei Balabanov movies.
Rolling Thunder (1977) – Written by Paul Schrader, he later disowned it for being an explicitly fascist film.
Furious (2017) – An explicitly white nationalist Russian action flick, similar to 300 (2005) in themes and setup.
13 Hours In Benghazi (2016) – A film about the horrors of American neoliberal policies, pointless foreign wars and the honest patriots that suffer.
The Lady and The Duke (2001) – Counter-revolutionary movie about the French Revolution from French cinemas finest conservative Eric Rohmer.
A River Runs Through It (1992) – The power of familial bond, inter-generational continuity and the land you inherit.
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