This is the movie that got Ronald Reagan shot.
Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976) is on Netflix, and it is a film that changed American history as much as it did cinematic history. It proved to be the breakout role for child star Jodie Foster, who costars alongside Robert De Niro as a 12 year-old New York prostitute named Iris.
She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, before going on to win for “The Accused” (1988) and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).
John Hinckley Jr. was certainly a fan. The would-be presidential assassin paid to see the neo-noir 15 times when it was still in theaters. He became so obsessed with Foster that he stalked her while she was a student at Yale and shot Reagan March 30, 1981, in an attempt to impress her.
Hinckley was emulating De Niro’s disturbed character, the titular taxi driver, Travis Bickle. Travis is a Vietnam War veteran who drives a cab around New York City at night because he has insomnia, and grows more and more disgusted with the squalor surrounding him.
Every De Niro performance is brilliant – he is one of the most dedicated method actors who’s ever lived – but “Taxi Driver” is as much a standout for him as it is for Foster. Though it was not his breakthrough, he still earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
His breakthrough came with an earlier Scorsese work, “Mean Streets” (1973). If an actor is only as good as his director, then Scorsese is the only filmmaker gifted enough to direct De Niro.
In the original context of “Taxi Driver,” however, the speech is a tragic symptom of Tavis’s escalating madness. He is so lonely that the only person he can converse with is his own reflection. De Niro improvised this exchange with himself under Scorsese’s genius direction.
Yet another powerhouse talent involved with “Taxi Driver” is the late film composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann wrote the scores for “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Vertigo” (1958), both of which are considered the greatest films of all time.
After completing the score for “Taxi Driver” on Christmas Eve 1975, Herrmann went home and died in his sleep from cardiovascular disease. He was 64 years old.
“Taxi Driver” is as bold as it is watchable. Hollywood filmed very few Vietnam War movies during the actual conflict itself. John Wayne’s “The Green Berets” (1968) had to gain approval from the Pentagon before it was made into a pro-war propaganda piece.
Released just three years after Vietnam ended, “Taxi Driver” explores Travis’s war-torn psyche with honesty and intricacy as he becomes increasingly isolated from his own home and ultimately chooses to pick up a gun for all the “Irises” in the world.
With Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” (2015) still going strong at the box office, the conversation about war and its effect on those who fight it is no less relevant today than it was in Travis Bickle’s day.
The war never leaves Travis’s soul, and “Taxi Driver” will never leave ours.
Collegian A&E Writer Hunter Goddard can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @hunter_gaga.