A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Taxi Driver is a classic 1976 Martin Scorsese film about the mental breakdown of a lonely and alienated young man driving a cab through the vice-laden streets of '70s NYC. It's one of the best films of all time -- iconic and unforgettable -- and a must-see for movie lovers, but unquestionably not for kids. Robert De Niro's performance as the antihero of antiheroes Travis Bickle conveys a slow slide into derangement with a gradual build-up of menace culminating in a blood-filled apartment shoot-out. The sleazy sex of Times Square and the violence of a declining city losing a war on crime weave through the movie with as much omnipresence as the sadly beautiful and dreamlike neon lights and long-gone bars, restaurants, and businesses of '70s New York streets where Bickle picks up and drops off his fares. Bickle frequents pornographic movie houses -- some brief scenes from the movies are shown and heard. He befriends a 12-year-old prostitute (played by Jodie Foster) and attempts to rescue her from her depraved surroundings. Bickle shoots and kills a would-be corner store robber, and after getting hustled out the front door by the grateful store owner, the owner begins to beat the dead man repeatedly with a wooden club. Profanity is constant, including "f--k," "c--t," "p---y," and various racial slurs for African-Americans. To reiterate: This is a great film, but most definitely not for kids.
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What's the story?
TAXI DRIVER centers on Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an unhinged young man who has moved to New York following service in the military. In the city, he finds himself disgusted by the crime and "filth" on the streets. Unable to sleep at night, he takes a job as a nighttime taxi driver -- a job that brings him into close contact with many of the city's undesirable elements. Although he tries to connect with the people he meets (including a pretty campaign worker played by Cybill Shepherd and a teen prostitute played by Jodie Foster), his awkwardness keeps him from succeeding. Rapidly, his mental state deteriorates, and he begins to fantasize about cleaning up corruption on his own. Ultimately, he enacts his warped idea of vigilante justice with some rather graphic and surprising consequences.
Is it any good?
Teenagers curious about extremely violent films are likely to learn of this film's reputation, especially the tour-de-force performance of Robert De Niro. Taxi Driver was the first major collaboration between De Niro and director Martin Scorsese. Working from Paul Schrader's script, the resulting film is deeply affecting in its ability to bring the viewer into the frame of mind of a violent and volatile social misfit. Feeding off a general sense of unrest that many young people will experience in life, the film does an amazing job of depicting Bickle as a real human being with problems, rather than a cartoonish villain. In Travis' mind, his morals are well tuned, obligating him to turn crusader for his own version of decency. It's hard to wholly cast him as the "bad guy," and so much moral ambiguity exists.
The imagery of New York City at night almost functions as a second main character, with striking visuals and all sorts of unsavory characters. It's a truly stunning masterpiece that helped to solidify an actor-director relationship that went on to produce many other great films.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies in which the lead characters are antiheroes. How does Travis Bickle fit the mold of a cinematic antihero? Who are some other examples of movie and TV show characters who are antiheroes? How might the antihero serve to underscore the problems of a society and even the inherent hypocrisy of those deemed to be the "good guys," who might not be as good as they seem?
How does Bickle seem both a part of and separate from the setting of the movie? How is the setting conveyed in both Scorsese's directing and the characters who inhabit it?
What are your thoughts on the ending? Do you prefer movies to have clear-cut endings, or endings that are more ambiguous? Why?
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