By Dan Clendenin

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Taxi Driver (1976)

This year 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the cult classic by writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese. When the movie premiered at Cannes in 1976, it won the award for best picture, and since then it has been routinely listed as one of the greatest films ever made. Robert De Niro plays a Vietnam Marine vet named Travis Bickle, an insomniac who drives a taxi in New York City from 6 PM to 6 AM. We didn’t have the medical categories back then, but today we would say he suffers from PTSD. He still wears his military fatigues. He’s a misanthropic loner who’s disgusted at the urban decay he observes every night — porn shops, pimps, peep shows, drugs, and gangs. He wishes for a “real rain that would wipe all this scum off the earth.” He’s obsessed with a girl he can never have, Betsy (Cybil Shepherd), “who appeared like an angel out of this filthy mess.” Frustrated with that failure at a human connection, he tries to save a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) with his vigilante justice. Bickle is a ticking time bomb: “I just wanna go out and really do something. I got some bad ideas in my head.” The musical score, observes one critic, is a “presentiment of catastrophe.” A new, mohawk haircut symbolizes his character development. The most famous line in the movie has passed into popular culture: “You talkin’ to me?!” Even forty years later, Taxi Driver raises important questions about human alienation, loneliness, and violence through its sordid realism. Is Travis Bickle a hero or a villain?

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