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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Great Last Scenes: Taxi Driver

Year: 1976
Director: Martin Scorsese
Great Because...: It leaves you guessing. Is the final scene, in which Travis Bickle has a last encounter with Betsy in his cab, the dying vision of a man who has gone over the edge or is it meant to be "real," his reward for enacting brutal vigilante justice? Whatever your interpretation, it's still a great scene that makes for a surprisingly gentle denouement to an intense and bloody climax.

Travis is a man who will not take it anymore. No longer content to stand passively by and let New York drown in its own filth and moral decay - not to mention a little emasculated by his failure to connect romantically with Betsy - he takes it upon himself to set things right and finally gain the power that has so long eluded him. He wants to do something that will wake people up and make them know who he is. At first he plans to assassinate Senator Palantine, who is not coincidentally Betsy's boss, but he sticks out so much that he immediately gets himself on the Secret Service's radar and has to flee. If he's going to do something "big," he'll have to do it in a place where his appearance won't immediately court suspicion.

He turns his attention to rescuing Iris, a teenage prostitute whose pimp represents everything Travis hates. With guns blazing Travis storms in, taking no prisoners and leaving a bloody trail in his wake. When all is said and done, he puts his bloody finger to his temple and mimes pulling the trigger, proud, defiant, and possibly dying. The film cuts to sometime later showing that Travis has achieved his goal, not just by ridding the streets of one of the lowlifes that he so abhors but also by being celebrated and thanked for it. He's a hero - even Betsy can't ignore that and now he gets the chance to dismiss her, closing the book on this chapter of his life.

There's no need to state how amazing Robert De Niro is in this movie, right? I will, however, point out that he manages to make Travis scariest when he's seemingly at his most benign. When mohawked, gun toting Travis shows up, you know what you're in for; but when "average Joe" Travis shows up, you don't always know what's going on behind his eyes, how close he is to snapping. He seems calm in that final shot, but maybe he's just gearing himself up for another explosion of violence, telling himself once again that there's no other way, that it's his destiny. Assuming, of course, that the final scene "really" happens. His final words in the film are "So long" and maybe he's not just saying it to Betsy, maybe he's saying it to the whole world as he leaves it. Either way it makes for a pretty extraordinary and memorable ending.

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Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Scorsese is wonderful. Ain't he?

The Mad Hatter said...

I've always loved that note in the score they run backwards when Travis snaps a look in his rearview mirror.

Damn it's been too long since I've watched this...

Norma Desmond said...

@Andrew: There's no better word.

@The Mad Hatter: That is a great little touch. Taxi Driver is the kind of movie where it's always too long since you've seen it, even if it was just yesterday.