Taxi Driver

Have You ‘Scene’ It? Take 2: Reevaluation of a Prescribed Scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)

TK2 – Taxi Driver Deconstruction

The sequence opens with a MCU of TRAVIS BICKLE, with an expression of determination:

The first thing we see is a close-up of the protagonist’s face. He’s determined, intrigued, perhaps a little nervous. Definitely uncertain about something yet definitely on a mission. This foreshadows the tone of the scene and the action that is to come.

That’s how I described the opening shot in my previous analysis of this scene. At the time, I was approaching from a text-analysis point-of-view, mainly descriptive of details and briefly delving into some semiotics.

This post will focus on production.

TK. 2

‘Determination’ is not all that is on TRAVIS’ face. The acting technique in the opening MCU tells a dense story. Yes, there’s determination. But that determination is not just determination alone. It is certainly not the same determination that wins Rocky the title*, or Rabbit the battle*. It’s a slimy, predatory determination. You can see the sex pouring from his part-open mouth like a bottle left unattended in a bag, whose lid is left accidentally ajar. You can see the carnivorous, hunting instinct/impulse in the wrinkles of the eyebrows and lower forehead. TRAVIS is determined, he sees something he wants. But the audience knows that this is not a ‘clean’ desire.

We get a shot of the taxi, the camera movement tracks to the right and follows TRAVIS towards the building. The camera movement leaves behind the world of his taxi and takes us to another world, the candidate’s party office, which we are about to enter. TRAVIS’ path is crossed by a passerby. The direction is timed, neither of them slows for one another; TRAVIS is on a mission.

In the edit, the foley of the door closing snaps right on the cut (no J & L).It’s immediate. It snaps us into the world of the new scene, this place is clearly different to TRAVIS’ regular setting. Phones are ringing, there are busy voices, hustle and bustle. The audience can hear that, see that and feel that. The production design in this setting is underpinned with a recurring motif of: red. The red tells a story. Contextually, it’s representative of the Republican party in the United States, and carries with it the party’s conservative values. Like intertextuality in literature, if the audience makes that connection, either consciously or subconsciously, then that’s great. If they are approaching the text from outside of that context and do not make the connection, that’s fine, too. Art is a unique experience for every individual.

The direction tells a visual story here, too. TRAVIS is approaching his target, who at this point we know as ‘the blonde woman behind the desk’. Sitting over her is a coworker. His body language tells us that he is clearly interested in taking their relationship further. He is facing the woman, sitting over her, legs drawn apart, feigning masculinity, attempting domineering possessiveness. As the camera movement tracks in, towards the pair, we see them stopped in their tracks; deer in headlights; guilty; obviously not discussing work; the male is clearly not impressed by the interruption.

Taxi Driver Office
Conversation Interrupted

I have discussed the interaction that follows in my previous post. I did consider, but it is worth repeating, the precision of the shot construction. The subjects are placed perfectly and the depth of field measured to the precise level so that the comedy of the keen coworker can play out, in perfect view for the audience, yet still just out-of-focus so that we know where to look. There is a lot going on here, but the audience does not get confused.

One interesting shot that I did not mention in my previous post, is the birds-eye shot of TRAVIS’ hand waving over the table. It plays at about 1:50. This shot is in some ways, totally bizarre. It seems inconsistent with the rest of the scene. The other action all appears fairly ‘natural’ or ‘realistic’.

Taxi Driver Desk
TRAVIS Waves his Arm

This shot, however, is deliberately slow and clearly staged. While TRAVIS says, “I see all these phones on your desk”, he doesn’t even point to the phones. His hand movement, however, is so precise and choreographed. There are theories that this reflects upon an earlier shot in the film and others that it is TRAVIS ‘hypnotising’ her into a date. Regardless, given all of its bizarre qualities, it flows naturally unnoticed unless you’re looking for it. These subtleties, it seems, exist throughout the film and play to its great effect.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

*Featured Image Credit:
Heroin and Hacks: Martin Scorsese’s Memories of ‘Taxi Driver’. IndieWire. 2015.



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