Reasons I write Noir: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the Pathology of Loneliness

I was a high school sophomore when I discovered the words film noir. Words that encompassed vast works of literature and film that still hold a special place in modern literature and film. Taxi Driver (written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese, with Robert Deniro playing the lead) was my introduction to the genre. So I was pleasantly surprised to stumble on to a review for it at the Soul of The Plot. The review by Hunter in short reminded me of how analyzing, and obsessively watching this movie influenced my writing.

The film noir world is that dark corner where all the things people don’t want to see get swept to, including but not limited to people. So it is fitting that the archetypal film noir antihero is usually both a critic of their surroundings as well as its sympathizer.

It’s the conflict between the two perspectives, that reveals to the audience the realities of the setting. Often these are conflicted men, cynical in attitude, and isolated but still holding on to some creed, code or mission. Something that only they think is valuable.

Enter Travis Bickle. Martin Scorsese’s insomniac war veteran who becomes a New York cabbie. The audience rides with Travis through the labyrinths of streets that blend together as he contemplates his life and the city. The loneliness and exhaustion that he feels is revealed through painful inner monologues. These are telling glimpses of a psyche under constant assault and the most telling is the following:

“Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.”

This line is telling because it foreshadows what is in store for Travis Bickle. His loneliness and his need for escape only grows as he is rejected by a woman he is pining for, and  when he ends up picking up a raving lunatic. Portrayed brilliantly by Robert Deniro, these events slowly transform Travis’s isolation into something militant and violent.

Trapped by his solitude and unable to bear his meaningless routines any longer,  his transformation explodes in a bloody firefight after a deranged and failed assassination attempt.

Though he isn’t a hero, sane, or even particularly likable, I believe the character of Travis Bickle should be studied by both writers and filmmakers for the three main reasons that the movie has been an influence on me.

Arthur Brenner
Arthur Brenner. The one in white is who Travis Bickle was based on.

One, it is a great example of real life, providing source material for a story. Paul Schrader not only drew from the diaries of assassin Arthur Brener but also from his own divorce and personal troubles. Also, while writing the script he kept a loaded gun on his desk for motivation and inspiration.

According to IMDB:

“The story was partially autobiographical for Paul Schrader, who suffered a nervous breakdown while living in Los Angeles. He was fired from the AFI, basically friendless, in the midst of a divorce and was rejected by a girlfriend. Squatting in his ex-girlfriend’s apartment while she was away for a couple of months, Schrader literally didn’t talk to anyone for many weeks, went to porno theaters and developed an obsession with guns. Schrader was working at the time as a delivery man for a chain of chicken restaurants. Spending long days alone in his car, he felt–I might as well be a taxi driver. He also shared with Bickle the sense of isolation from being a mid-Westerner in an urban center. Schrader decided to switch the action to New York City only because taxi drivers are far more common there. Schrader’s script clicked with both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro when they read it”

Two, it does an excellent job of making an unlikable character into an underdog. What keeps Travis Bickle from seeming like a grotesque human being is the very human emotions that are driving him to lose touch with reality. These changes are painfully documented in his notebook and revealed to the audience in a way that makes you want to ignore the fact that he is crazy. Paul Schrader and Scorsese’s were uncompromising in their efforts to show the true pain that Travis experiences.

Finally, it is the Eifel Tower of making-a-simple-story-compelling. There is very little mystery to Taxi Driver, though there is plenty of uncertainty. The scenes are minimalistic and simple and there is only one focus–Travis Bickle and his slow separation from reality. There is a reason that the name Travis Bickle is still remembered today, and why Taxi Driver appears in American Film Institute’s Greatest Movie of All Time.

Taxi Driver is an unflinching look at what ultimately is a character study of a man’s loneliness slowly removing him from reality. As Paul Schrader calls it: “It is the pathology of loneliness”.

Today’s assignment: write a post that builds on one of the comments you left yesterday. Don’t forget to link to the other blog! – Blogging 101: Be Inspired by the Neighbors

9 thoughts on “Reasons I write Noir: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the Pathology of Loneliness

  1. A fantastic analysis of noir and this classic movie. I was instantly hooked by the title, and you had me intrigued until the very end. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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