You are on page 1of 15

See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: https://www.researchgate.

net/publication/305699475

Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma

Chapter · August 2014


DOI: 10.1002/9781118585344.ch18

CITATIONS READS

0 89

1 author:

Michael High
Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
3 PUBLICATIONS   0 CITATIONS   

SEE PROFILE

All content following this page was uploaded by Michael High on 10 May 2018.

The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file.


Wiley Blackwell Companions to Film Directors
A Companion to
The Wiley Blackwell Companions to Film Directors survey key directors
whose work together constitutes what we refer to as the Hollywood and world
cinema canons. \Vherher Haneke or Hitchcock, Bigelow or Bergmann, Capra
Martin Scorsese
or the Coen brothers, each volume, comprised of 25 or more newly commis-
sioned essays written by leading experts, explores a canonical, contemporary
and/ or controversial auteur in a sophisticated, authoritative, and multi-
dimensional capacity. Individual volumes interrogate any number of subjects Edited by
-the director's oeuvre; dominant themes, well-known, worthy; and under-rated
films; stars, collaborators, and key influences; reception, reputation, and above Aaron Baker
all, the director's intellectual currency in the scholarly world.

Published
1. A Companion to Michael Haneke, edited by Roy Grundmann
2. A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Thomas Leitch and Leland
Poague
3. A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, edited by Brigitte Peucker
4. A Companion to Werner Herzog, edited by Brad Prager
5. A Companion to Pedro Almod6var, edited by Marvin D'Lugo and Kathleen
Vernon
6. A Companion to Woody Allen, edited by Peter]. Bailey and Sam B. Girgus
7. A Companion to jean Renoir, edited by Alastair Phillips and Ginette
Vmcendeau
8. A Companion to Francois Truffaut, edited by Dudley Andrew and Anne
Gillian
9. A Companion to Luis Bufiuel, edited by Robert Stone and Julian Daniel
Gutierrez-Albilla
10. A Companion to jean-Luc Godard, edited by Tom Conley and T. Jefferson
Kline
11. A Companion to Martin Scorsese, edited by Aaron Baker

WI LEY Blackwell
This edition first published 2015
D 2015 john Wiley and Sons, Inc

Rcgistnd Office
john Wiley & Sons Ltd, The Arr:ium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, POl9 SSQ, UK

Editorial Offiu£
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148·5020, USA
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK
The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, P019 SSQ, UK
Contents
For details of our global edirorial offices, for customer services, and for information about how
to apply for permission to reuse the copyright material in this book please see our website at
wwwwiley.com/ wiley blackwelL

The right of Aaron Baker to be identified as the author of the editorial material in this work has been
asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system. or
u-ansmitted. in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, except as permitted by the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, without the prior
Contributors viii
permission of the publisher.

Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print Introduction: Artistic Solutions to Sociological Problems
may not be available in electronic books. Aaron Baker
Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are ofi:en claimed as trademarks. All
brand names and product names used in this book are trade names. service marks, trademarks or
Part One The Pious Auteur
registered trademarks of their respective O\•mers. The publisher is not associated with any product or
How Scorsese Became Scorsese: A Historiography of New
vendor mentioned in this book.
Hollywood's Most Prestigious Auteur 17
Limit of Liabilicy /Disclaimer of Warrancy: While the publish.er and author{s) have used their best Marc Raymond
efforts in preparing iliis book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy
or completeness of the contents of thls book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of 2 Smuggling Iconoclasm: European Cinema and Scorsese's
merchamabilicy or fimess for a particular purpose. It is sold on the understanding that the publisher is Male Antiheroes 38
not engaged in rendering professional services and neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable Giorgio Bertellini and jacqueline Reich
for damages arising herefrom. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services
of a competent professional should be sought. 3 Italian Films, New York City Television, and the Work of
Martin Scorsese 53
Library of Congress Cataloging·in-Pub!ication Data
Laura E. Ruberto
A companion to Martin Scorsese I edited by Aaron Baker.
pages em
4 The Imaginary Museum: Martin Scorsese's Film History
Includes bibliographical references and index. Documentaries 71
lSBN 978·1·4443-3861-4 {clorh) Robert P. Kolker
L Scorsese, Martin--Criticism and interpretation. !. Baker. Aaron, editor of compilation.
PN1998.3.S39C64 2014 5 Images of Religion, Ritual, and the Sacred in Martin
791.4302'33092-dcZ3 Scorsese's Cinema 91
2014012267 David Sterritt
A catalogue record fo< this book is available from the British Library.
Part Two Social Contexts and Conflicts 115
Cover image: Photo of Martin Scorsese by Ferdinanda Scianna I Magnum Photos
Cover design by Nicki Averill Design and Illustration 6 Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Italianamerican: Gender,
Ethnidty, and Imagination 117
Set in 11.5/!3 pt DanreMTStd-Regular by Tappan Best-set Premedia Limited Aaron Baker
Printed and bound in Malaysia by Vivar Printing Sdn Bhd

1 2015
372 Stefan Sereda

Kleinhans, C. (1998) Independent features: hopes and dreams. In]. Lewis (ed.), The New
American Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 307-327. 18
Kramer, P. (2005) The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wan. London and New
York: Wallflower.
Raymond, M. (2006) The municipality of generic discourses and the meaning and pleasure
of Mean Streets. Canadian]ounwl of Film Studies, 15 (2): 62-80.
Taxi Driver and Vet~ran
Sconce,]. (2002) Irony, nihilism, and the new American "'smart'' film. Screen, 43 (4):
349-369.
Trauma
Scorsese, M. (1989) Scorsese on Scorsese. D. Thompson and I. Christie (eds). Boston: Faber
and Faber. Michael D. High
Thomson, D. (2004) The decade when movies mattered. In T Elseasser, A. Horwath, and
N. King (eds), The Last Great American Picture Show: New Hollywood Cinema in the 1970s.
Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 73-82.
Waddell, C. (2009) Jack Hill: The Exploitation and Blaxploitation Master, Film by Film. Jeffer~
son, NC: McFarland.
Warshaw; R. (2007) The gangster as tragic hero. In A Silver and]. Ursini (eds), The Gangster Introduction
Film Reader Silver. Pompton Plains, NJ: Limelight Editions, pp. 11-18.
Wernblad, A. (2010) The Passion of Martin Scorsese.Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company,
Inc. In a key scene in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (Columbia Pictures, 1976),
Winter, J. (2006) The Rough Guide to American Independent Film. New York and London: Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) talks on a payphone, pleading \V:ith a woman
Rough Guides Ltd. (her voice absent) after a disastrous date to a porno theater. As Bickle proposes
dinner, coffee, a phone call, anything, the camera slowly tracks away from him
to an empty hallway. Down the long hallway lies nothing and no one, a world
Further Reading bereft of others. This scene demonstrates a schism in his consciousness, a
separation between his stated desire for attachment and his unconscious desire
Toy, S., Carty, S.,Jolin, D., White,]., O'Hara, H., Plumb, A., and De Semlyen, P./Empire for isolation. For Scorsese, this was the beginning of the film, the first scene
Online. (2011) The 50 greatest American independent movies. Online: http://www
he imagined, and the last he shot, and the scene is tied to his understanding
.empireonline.com/fearures/50-greatesr-american-indies (last accessed March 31,
of film as the "sense of being almost awake" (Scorsese, 1989: 54). This scene,
2014).
like other scenes of social failure in this film, such as the bubbling Alka-Seltzer
(a two-tiered intertextual reference to films by jean-Luc Godard and Carol
Reid) and the disembodied, floating overhead camera of the violent climax,
represents Bickle as "almost awake," as partially present and partially some-
where else, partially someone else.
As one of the most startling and successful of Scorsese's films, Taxi Driver
has garnered many critical interpretations. Much of the criticism focuses on the
aspects already discussed (cultural appropriation, miscommunication, repeti-
tion, alienation, and violence), while alleging two contradictory positions:
most commonly, that Bickle suffers from a pathological mental condition, and
less commonly, that he is the average, but extreme, result of a devastating post-
modern society (Farber and Patterson, 1976; Friedman, 1997; Fuchs, 2005;
Kolker, 1988; Fuchs, 1991; Martin, 1997; Taubin, 2000; Wernblad, 2010). It is

A Companion to Martin Scorsese, First Edition. Edited by Aaron Baker.


© 2015 john Wiley & Sons, !nc. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
374 Michael D. High T<Jxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 375

possible, using trauma theory, to reconcile these opposing approaches, to read Whether as war trauma in combat or physical or sexual trauma at home, the
his condition and his violence as an interplay of external stimuh and internal victim cannot integrate the traumatic experience to their conception of
frailty (Freud, 1909; Garland, 2002; Herman, 1992; Russell, 2006; Scarry, 1985). the possible, their conception of how the world should function. Specifically,
To do so, however, requires a reevaluation of the character's history; as well as in times of war, killing and witnessing slaughter, normally taboo in modern
a resituating of the film as a veteran film, similar to other early, independent societies, are sanctioned, encouraged, and coerced, inverting the individual's
Vietnam veteran films of the 1960s and 1970s that position the soldier as both life-long relation to violence. A veteran's development of PTSD is the response
victim and victimizer. Robert Ray claims that "Taxi Driver allegorized the to this violent inversion, though there are contributing personal and social
American experience in Vietnam: detached isolationism followed by violent, factors that make some veterans more or less susceptible. The symptoms of
and ultimately ineffective, intervention" (Ray, 1985: 360), yet the film is not just PTSD vary considerably, but they all center around the attempts of repressed
an allegory for Vietnam. It is an early attempt to represent the effects of psycho- experiences to surface, which the subject often resists for a variety of psycho-
logical trauma experienced in Vietnam, the effects of being both the victim of logical, social, and personal reasons; that is, the defense mechanisms of the
violence and the perpetrator of violence, and the resulting dialectic of impo- ego resist the forming of proper connections between causes and symptoms,
tence and power, failure and success, that results from such an experience. thereby continuing the trauma; victims often face societal disbelief or disinter-
est in their trauma; and the acknowledgment of the traumatic experience can
undermine the victim's sense of autonomy, even though the effects of the
trauma have already done so, as evidenced in the symptoms of hyperalertness,
Trauma, Repetition, and Existential Crisis anxiety, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, ahenation, and nightmares.
One of the most common consequences of psychological trauma is the
What has come to be known in academia as trauma theory is an amalgamation repetition compulsion. First elucidated by Freud (1909), the repetition compul-
of different psychological and physiological observations and theorizations sion is the unconsciously motivated desire to repeat the traumata, either in the
that attempt to understand and treat the effects of posttraumatic stress disor- same form or in a symbohc form; it is the paradoxical desire to revisit an
der or syndrome (PTSD). PTSD's prehistory encompasses the conditions of undesired pain. Doctor PaulL. Russell, synthesizing the work on the repetition
shell shock (for veterans) and hysteria (for women) as well. After the physical compulsion, trauma, and affect, holds that the "repetition compulsion is para-
trauma has healed, the psychological trauma, the lingering mental wound doxically both an invitation to a relationship and an invitation to repeat the
that remains, causes PTSD. As Elaine Scarry articulates, physical pain unmakes interruption of some important earher relationship. It is both adaptive and
the world: "Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys suicidal because, in this context, relatedness is what the person most needs
it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to and cannot yet feel" (Russell, 2006: 612). The repetition compulsion marks
the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned" (Scarry, the trauma of broken attachments, whether it is the attachment to comrades
1985: 17). This reversion to an anterior state can affect the mind as much as killed in the time of war or the attachment to God or nature or a sense
the body, and its lasting effects undermine the subject's ability to defend of order destroyed by natural disaster. The repetition compulsion, and by
against normal shocks (i.e., everyday stimuli). Sufferers of psychological extension trauma, lead to an existential crisis because it undermines the
trauma often demonstrate "a failure of recognition" of the cause of their attachments a person needs in order to define themselves (this perspective
symptoms because of the rupture of language (Russell, 2006: 602). The essence holds that the personahty is formed through differential definition and
of trauma lies in a dialectic of repression and testimony, the inability to speak imitation/ appropriation).
and the need to speak, that decenters the subject in relation to others and Although Freud's work on trauma usually marks the begirming of trauma
society. Specifically, theory (Freud, 1909), widespread acknowledgment of psychological
trauma by the medial professions began in the 1980s and coalesced in ·the
Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the 1990s. Following that, academic critics started to analyze first literary, then
attachmentS of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the con- all cultural texts, for the symptoms of trauma. Taxi Driver, while made before
struction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They under- the medical and academic dissemination of trauma theory, is a testament to a
mine the belief systems that give meaning to hwnan experience. They violate the nascent cultural understanding following the Vietnam War that the experience
victim's faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential of war undermines the cognitive structures and defenses of soldiers. The film's
crisis. (Herman, 1992: 50) cultural longevity; as well as its continued ability to disturb viewers, results
376 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 377

from the unending US imperial conquests and the human damage that results The Searchers follows Ethan Hawke (John Wayne), a civil war veteran, who
therein. Veteran trauma is still a societal problem that, while better understood stalks Comanche who have abducted his niece and killed his family. As he
than in 1976, remains often untreated and repressed for ideological and nation- follows, he becomes increasingly violent, and his desire for revenge overshad-
alistic reasons. ows any concern for his niece, who has no desire to return to her empty family
home. The Searchers, the culmination of the western's classic period, is not
unlike Taxi Driver's relationship to the urban western, in that both films
foreground the protagonist's compulsion toward violence as unregenerate, as
Situating Taxi Driver self-motivated and unconcerned for the supposed victim. Similarly, in The
Searchers, Ethan Hawke (John Wayne) is a veteran whose violent history, while
The screenwriter of Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader, cites Jean Paul Sartre's (1964) undetailed, structures his later actions (Wernblad, 2010: 83).
Nausea, Albert Camus's (1989) The Stranger, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's (1961) The link between The Searchers and Taxi Driver is key for understanding a
"'Notes from Underground" as existentialist influences for the screenplay rare representation of veteran's postwar integration in American cinema. Both
(Schrader, 1990a; Swensen, 2001). Scorsese's filmic influences are vast, but films repeat the violence of the war obliquely with new violence, imagining
the film demonstrates the stylistic influence of La Nouvelle Vague, the docu- soldier's victimizing others on the home front. The representation of veterans
mentary realism of the Italian neorealists, and the films of Alfred Hitchcock compelled to perpetrate violence, as in The Searchers and Taxi Driver, while
(especially through Bernard Herrmarm's score) (Thurman, 2005). Several seen at times throughout US cinema, is overshadowed by the overwhelming
critics have also linked the expressionistic perspective, dark tone, and prob- majority of return films that represent the soldiers as victims (and only victims)
lematic of failing masculinity to film noir (Fuchs, 1991; Kolker, 1988; Nare- of violence.
more, 1998; Quart, 1995; Taubin, 2000). The historical situation from which The lack of films that represent returning veterans as compelled to repeat
film nair was born is similar in many ways to that of the 1970s: postwar violence is an example of cultural repression, a hegemonic prohibition against
disillusionment, radical social change along gendered and racial lines, and representing soldier's atrocities on the home front. This hegemony is evident
the political challenges that follow such feelings and changes (Krutnik, 1991; in the lack of critical attention to Taxi Driver as a veteran film and in the lack
Schrader, 1972). of attention given to early films about Viemam veterans at home, as these
Film noir concerns also structure the urban western cycle of the 1960s and films (which I will discuss later) acknowledge the soldier's dual positioning as
1970s, though the concerns are articulated differently and to very different (i.e. "victim and victimizer" (Tal, 1996: 10). As judith Herman writes in her monu-
conservative) political conclusions. As theorized by Ray (1985), the urban mental study on trauma, "The knowledge of horrible events periodically
westerns, released between 1968 and 1974, detail the breakdown of society, intrudes into public awareness but is rarely retained for long. Denial, repres-
justifY individual (as opposed to state-sanctioned) violence, and advocate mas- sion, and dissociation operate on a social as well as an individual level" (Herman,
culine action while relocating the cowboy into the urban landscape. Whereas 1992: 2).
film noir undermined the idea of the hero, often by the hero's destruction at It is important to stress that soldiers, even wounded soldiers, are not mere
the climax of the film, urban westerns were 'briefs for the continued applica- victims. As Kali Tal argues, "Much recent literature - popular, clinical and
bility of the reluctant hero story to contemporary life" (Ray, 1985: 307). These academic - places the combat soldier simply in the victim's role; helpless in
films, such as Coogan's Bluff (Don Siegel, The Malpaso Company, 1968), Dirty the face of war, and then helpless to readjust from the war experience upon
Harry (Don Siegel, The Malpaso Company, 1971), Walking Tall (Phil Karlson, his return home," yet soldiers are not simply victims: "though subordinate to
Bing Crosby Productions, 1973), and Death "W'ish (Michael Winner, Dino De their military superiors and frequently at the mercy of their enemies, [combat
Laurentiis Company; 1974), rationalize and justify vengeful violence as an soldiers] still possess a life-or-death power over other people" (Tal, 1996: 10).
individual's means to correct society. Taxi Driver adopts and transmutes several Understanding soldiers' complex relationship to violence and power changes
aspects of the urban western for a more left politics (Grist, 2000; Ray, 1985). the understanding of their trauma, and necessitates a different optic, a different
The connection to the western is deeper though; as many critics have noted set of texts for study. Rather than looking at the veteran/victim films of the
(and Scorsese and Schrader have confirmed), Taxi Driver recasts John Ford's late 1970s and early 1980s (the studio films that dominate the critical debates
morally ambivalent western, The Searchers (C.V. Whitney Pictures, 1956), in on the cinematic representation of Vietnam), it is more productive to examine
the urban decay of New York (Grist, 2000; Stern, 1995; Wernblad, 2010; Wood, the films that preceded Taxi Driver: Russ Meyer's Motor Psycho (Eve Produc-
1980). tions, 1965) and Elia Kazan's The Visitors (Home Free, 1972).
378 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 379

Motor Psycho, a nudity-free exploitation film, follows a rapist motorcycle The relative earliness of the representations, before the conservative rewriting
gang, whose leader, Brahmin (Stephen Oliver), fought in Vietnam. Brahmin is of the war as the tragedy of a divided country, undoubtedly affects the rep-
withdravm and aloof, and the violence of the gang is never explained or justi- resentation. With the exception of Coming Home and First Blood, all of the
fied within the film. Instead, Vietnam functions as the only reference to their veteran/victim films listed previously were studio-funded films and demon-
violence, with Brahmin referring to rape as "an old Vietcong procedure." The strated a hegemonic prohibition against represe:t;J.ting soldiers as less than
film culminates in a showdovm between an aggrieved husband (Cory Maddox) heroic on the home front (a prohibition that is still prevalent today across
and Brahmin in an isolated gully, in which Brahmin relives his Viemam experi- most mass media). \Vhile Vietnam films have shown soldiers in Vietnam as
ences, shouting army commands at the husband, calling him "Commie" and murderous, as in Apocalypse Now (Frauds Ford Coppola, Zoetrope Studios,
"Red schmuck." Before he is killed, he sings, "'When the war is over we will 1979), Full Metal jacket (Stanley Kubrick, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1987), and
all enlist again," as if the rape and violence are a continuation of Viemam on Casualties of War (Brian De Pahna, Columbia Pictures, 1989) (based on the
the home front. same article as The Visitors), the veteran is purified (though troubled) when
Similarly, The VtSitors focuses on rape after soldiers return from Vietnam. he returns home.
Based by Kazan on Daniel Lang's 1969 New Yorker article, "Causalities of War," Motor Psycho, The Visitors, and Apocalypse Now, however, were early and
the film imagines the war's hold on veterans who attacked the Vietnamese independently funded, allowing far greater freedom. Taxi Driver, while financed
civilian population, as well as the moral conflicts between soldiers over such by Columbia Pictures, remained violent and unsafe (from the studio's stand-
attacks. The original article by Lang describes the actual rape and murder of point) only because Scorsese struggled with Columbia, which objected to
a Vietnamese woman, Pharo Ti Mao, by all except one of a platoon of soldiers, the violence of the film and almost canceled production after shooting
the lone dissenter's struggle to find anyone to care, and, finally, the charges delays (Grist, 2000: 129). The film, therefore, according to Leighton Grist,
brought against the marines (Lang, 1969). The film conjures a later meeting while not politically revolutionary, "marks some of the radical parameters
between the dissenter, Bill Uames Woods), and two of the marines charged for a film financed and distributed by a major studio in the mid-seventies''
with the rape, Sarge (Steve Railsback) and Tony (Chico Martinez). The two (Grist, 2000: 156).
marines come to Bill's isolated house, intimidating him and his wife, Martha It is unclear whether or not Motor Psycho and The VtSitors consciously influ-
(Patricia joyce), and repeat the violence of Vietnam against Bill and his wife, enced Scorsese, as he has not discussed the films in relation to Taxi Driver.
beating him and raping her. After Sarge rapes the wife, she pleads with Tony Scorsese, however, has repeatedly discussed the importance of On The Water-
not to rape her as well, to which he replies, "Lady you're nuts. You think you front (Elia Kazan, Horizon Pictures, 1954) to his life and film career (King,
can change the ru1es in the middle," acknowledging the demand wartime 2010), in addition to presenting Kazan with his controversial Oscar and making
behaviors maintain on soldiers after their return (in essence, the war never the documentary about Kazan (and his influence on Scorsese), Letter to Elia
ends). The film shows the soldiers as victims and perpetrators of violence, yet (Kent Jones and Martin Scorsese, Far Hills Pictures, 2010). Considering his
the site of violence, the battlefield, is the woman's body. dedication to Kazan's work (and his cinephilia), it's very possible that Scorsese
Although the soldiers in both fihns have received and inflicted the trauma saw The Vtsitors. Regardless, Taxi Driver is a transitional film in the representa-
of war, once back home, they target women. In this logic of violence, the tions of returning veterans, as it is the last film to portray Vietnam veterans
victimized oppresses a more vulnerable group, and rape, historically one of as both victims and victimizers. It is not, however, novel within Scorsese's
the oldest war "tactics" and a common, though not commonly prosecuted, act work, as he portrayed the violence of Vietnam, metaphorically and directly, in
during the Vietnam War, confers on the soldier the power he previously held previous films. In the short film The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese, 1968), also
when the government sanctioned his violence. knovm as Viet 67, a young man begins his morning shaving routine in a bril-
Motor Psycho, The VISitors, and Taxi Driver portray how the veteran's experi- liantly white bathroom, shaving away stubble, then skin, repeating the routine
ences in Vietnam affects and disfigures, but unlike later films such as Heroes until his face, neck and chest are pouring blood. The films ending credits list·
Ueremy Kagan, Universal Productions, 1977), Rolling Thunder Uohn Flynn, "Whiteness Herman Melville" and "Viet 67." Originally intended for screening
Twentieth Century Fox, 1978) (also by Schrader), Coming Home (Hal Ashby, at the antiwar protest, "'The Angry Arts Against the War" (Friedman, 1997:
Jerome Hellman Productions, 1978), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, Uni- 40), the film is a metaphor for the self-destructive violence of che white Ameri-
versal Pictures, 1978), and First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, Anabasis Investments can male in VIetnam, and Scorsese even contemplated ending the film with
N.V, 1982), these three films represent the veteran as not simply a victim of stock footage from V1emam (Grist, 2000: 23). The film combines gender, vio-
trauma who must repeat and relive it, but as a perpetrator of trauma as well. lence, and race in ways that startlingly prefigure Taxi Driver.
380 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 381

More explicitly; in a scene in Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, Taplin- Martin, 1997; Mortimer, 1997; Naremore, 1998; Page, 1993; Rice, 1976;
Perry-Scorsese Productions, 1973), several characters celebrate the return of Sharrett, 1993; Swensen, 2001; Wernblad, 2010; Whited, 2004). His service
their friend from Vietnam in a local bar. The veteran (Harry Northrup, who in Vietnam, however, is the first, and one of the only, pieces of specific
plays Dough Boy in Taxi Driver), while staring at a couple dancing, for no information about him revealed in the film. As Bickle applies for a job at the
apparent reason slams his fists into the half-eaten cake in front of him and cab depot, the personnel officer interrogates ftim as two cab drivers have a
attacks the woman, trying to rip off her clothes. The other characters pull him heated (but not aggressive) conversation in the window behind them. Bickle
away, one saying, "Take it easy jerry. Take it easy. This is America." tells his reasons for wanting to be a cab driver ("I can't sleep nights"), and
when asked about his military record, reticently replies (while looking down
at his feet), «honorably discharged .... May 1973." When the personnel officer
learns that Bickle was a marine, he tells him, «I was in the marines too,"
Success, Failure, and Vietnam pausing for Bickle to acknowledge their shared connection, which he does not.
Repeatedly in this scene, the camera tilts up from Bickle's waste to reveal a
Taxi Driver was Scorsese's first critical and commercial success. It won the "King Kong Company" patch on his military jacket. The patch has King Kong
Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 and grossed 28 million dollars in a camouflage helmet, and the camera, focused on the personnel officer from
in its first theatrical run (from a budget of less than two million). It has earned behind Bickle, prominently shows King Kong's gaping mouth in a silent scream
untold millions in VHS, DVD, digital downloads, and re-releases, the United (Figure 18.1).
States National Film Preservation Board has selected it for preservation in the Bickle's history is sparse, his answers are imprecise, and the personnel
Library of Congress, and it consistently ranks in the top 100 films of all time officer goes from irritation at his sarcasm CMy record is dean ... like my con-
(AFI.com, 2007; TIME, 2005). More importantly, it has garnered a singular science") to incredulity when he answers the education question with, "A
place in American cultural history: many of its images and lines have become little ... some here, some there." Bickle's failure to connect with his interlocu-
iconic references in popular culture; the film helped to define postwar New tor is juxtaposed with the two cab drivers conversing behind them. Their
York city as a place of isolation, danger, and depravity, a representation that exchange illustrates the kind of easy connection Bickle is incapable of, and the
would continue throughout the 1980s and early 1990s; and most notoriously, film will show Bickle at several times estranged from the other cabbies. He is
it inspired, or was at least used as a defense for, John Hinckley Jr.'s attempted
assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
And yet its success, as Amy Taubin (2000) notes in her book on the film,
stems from failure: the defeat of the United States in Vietnam, the collapse of
the coumercultural movement, and the breakdown of hegemonic masculinity
structure not only the historical moment within the film, but also the trials of
the character. Bickle's srory is of unspecified yet constantly indicated war
trauma. The trauma manifests as alienation and impotence, a decentering of
the subject, and is only overcome in the film by a repetition of violence (a
further failure). This trauma is directly tied to the representation of problem~
atic masculinity, both in the breakdown of the soldier's traditional righteous-
ness and in Bickle's inability to dictate the desires of the women he encounters.
Countercultural failure is diffused throughout the film, focusing on the deg-
radation of the free love movement into rampant prostitution, the naive flower
power of Iris Uodie Foster) as shown in her sentiments and wardrobe, and the
empty populist rhetoric of Senator Palamine (Leonard Harris), whose slogan
is "We are the people."
While almost all critics acknowledge that Bickle is a veteran, few place
importance on his military service (Caron, 1997; Casillo, 1986; Farber and Figure 18.1 Travis applies for a job. Taxi Driver (1976). Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Paterson, 1976; Friedman, 1997; Grist, 2000; Kolker, 1988; Lourdeaux, 2010; Produced by Columbia Pictures Corporation, Bill/Phillips, and Italo/judeo Productions.
··~

382 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 383

always ill at ease in the conversation, captured at the edge of the frame, sepa- This exchange offers provocative insight into Bickle's rime in Vietnam and the
rated, or shot by himself, while the others are shown as a group. civilian population's understanding of the veteran's experience. Andy, of
Taxi Driver inscribes Viemam indirectly, as in the application scene, through- course, does not register Bickle's comments, focused only on what Vietnam
our the film. It is written on the character's body; as revealed in the workout means in relation to his needs (i.e., gun smuggling). Bickle's hospitalization,
scene by the long, three-inch wide shrapnel scar along the left side of his back. although not in the film, further stresses the importance of physical, if not
It is foregrounded in the costuming, as Bickle wears one of two "King Kong also psychological, injury.
Company" military jackets in almost every scene outside his apartment. The Scorsese, on the other hand, could not be more direct:
costuming communicates his military service to each person he encounters,
as if the character's repressed history returns through his dress. He wears a It was crucial to Travis Bickle's character that he had experienced life and death
brown jacket as he drives around the city each night, patrolling much like the around him every second he was in south-east Asia. That way it becomes more
soldiers in Vietnam (Fuchs, 1991 ), and dons another, longer dark green jacket heightened when he comes back; the image of the street at night reflected in the
for his assassination attempts. The mohawk Bickle shaves into his head, besides dirty gutter becomes more threatening. I think that's something a guy going
linking the film to the Western, is a reference taken from Victor Magnotta, an through a war, any war, would experience when he comes back to what is suppos-
actual Vietnam veteran who appeared as a secret service photographer in the edly 'civilization.' (Scorsese, 1989: 62)
film. Magnotta related ro the crew how in Saigon Special Forces troops shaved
Mohawks before missions to signal their preparation: "You didn't even go near Scorsese links Bickle's experience to those of the veterans in his neighbor-
them. They were ready ro kill" (quoted in Rausch, 2010: 65). hood growing up. He emphasizes not only the violent experience of Vietnam,
One possible reason for the critical reluctance to foreground Bickle's mili- and how this would cause increased paranoia, but also how the experience of
tary service lies with the competing claims of the screenwriter and the director. war reconfigures a soldier's conception of "civilization," of the supposed
Schrader explidtly denies the importance of Vietnam in the film: "I didn't normaL For Scorsese, the experience of war dialectically undermines the sol-
really make him a Vietnam vet .... It's assumed he has some kind of searing dier's other experiences, throwing into disarray supposedly concrete internal
memory and that he's had some familiarity with weapons, bur it's not meant structures. While no one event can summarize a complex character, the refer-
to be a story about Vietnam and Vietnam is never discussed" (Schrader, 1990a: ences in the film, screenplay, preproduction research, and opinions of the
126). For Schrader, Bickle is existentially lost, like Antoine, rhe protagonist of filmmakers point to a shared desire to represent Bickle's military service as an
Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea. important component of the character (additionally; De Niro researched with
It is difficult, however, ro believe Schrader based on the published shooting army soldiers, emulating their speech patterns, movements, and style of dress)
script. In ~~· he spedficall! describes Bickle's jacket ("King Kong Company; (Rausch, 2010: 61-62).
1968-1970 ), the scene Wlth the personal officer, and, more importantly; an
exchange between Bickle and the gun seller (Andy), eventually edited our of
the film:
Diagnosing Travis Bickle
ANDY: You in 'Nam? Can't help but notice your j"acket?
TRAVJS: (Looking up) Huh?
ANDY: The fascinating insight of Taxi Driver, born of the collaborative compromise
Vietnam? I saw it on your jacket. Where were you? Bet you got to handle
a lot of weapons out there. between Schrader's existential influences (Sartre and Camus) and intention in
(TRAVIS hands ANDY the biUs. ANDY counts them and gives TRAVIS a twenty and a the screenplay and the expression of Scorsese in the film, is that Bickle's
five.) trauma leads to an existential crisis. In effect, the filmmakers intuitively under-
TRAVIS: Yeah. I was all around. One hospital, then the next. stood (on some level) the mechanisms and repercussions of trauma. Instead
ANDY: (As he counts) It's hell out there all right. A real shit-eatin' war. I'll say this, of analyzing this aspect, reviews and analyses of the film focus on psychopa-
though: it's btinging back a lot of fantastic guns. The market's flooded. thology, diagnosing Bickle as mentally aberrant (Fuchs, 1991; Martin, 1997: 86;
Colt automaticS are all over. (Pockets the money.) Taubin, 2000: 49; Thurman, 2005; Wernblad, 2010). Manny Farber and Patricia
TRAVIS: (Intensely) They'd never get me to go back. They'd have to shoot me first. Patterson apparently set the trend in 1976 when they described Bickle as
(Schrader, 199Gb)
a "misfit psychotic" (Farber and Patterson, 1976: 28). The diagnoses mark
384 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 385

attempts to frame Bickle's behavior through various psychological categories understanding of how representations dialogue with cultural experience.
(obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis, paranoid schizophrenia, etc.), ignor- Here, Scorsese's opinion functions as a helpful corrective to a critical blind spot
ing his military service. toward the film. Taxi Driver is an early attempt to intuit and represent the
Contradicting these diagnoses, others have stressed affinity with Bickle's psychological effeets of traumatic experience, creating a startling portrait of
perceptions and desires. Scorsese himself said, the veteran's "drive to target," and it is therefor~; an important document in
the history of the cultural understanding of the veteran's experience.
I know this guy Travis. I"ve had feelings that he has, and those feelings have to be
explored, taken out and examined. I know the feeling of rejection that Travis feels,
of not being able to make relationships survive. I know the killing feeling, the feeling
of really being angry. (quoted in Rausch, 2010: 57)
The Trauma of Travis Bi~kle

Similarly, critics acknowledge that Bickle's perceptions haunt viewers because The physical and emotional cause of Bickle's trauma in Vietnam is unknow-
they are so much like "our" own, so typical (Friedman, 1997; Fuchs, 2005; able. Like the creators of The Searchers, Scorsese and company have not
Quart, 1995). Robert Phillip Kolker even claims that Bickle "can be viewed as included the specific details of its causes (Sharrett, 1993: 225). Instead, the film
a radically alienated urban castoff, a mutant produced by the incalculable documents its symptoms, the repetition compulsion, and Bickle's violent
dehumanization of post-industrial society" (Kolker, 1988: 194). These views therapy.
point to an external reading that posits the individual as (mis)shaped by experi- Bickle, in New York City, is courting conflict, increasingly putting himself
ence and society. in situations he finds dangerOus. The desire to drive a taxi is itself a manifesta-
In one of the only essays to centrally situate Bickle's Vietnam service, tion of the flirtation with danger; anyone can get in behind him, any of the
Cynthia]. Fuchs analyzes how the film blends Vietnam and film nair to rep- others he finds so threatening. He reports, "Each night when I rerum the cab
resent the veteran's experience at the home front. Specifically, she finds that to the garage I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights I clean
the "correlation berv.reen the war and this essentially American style (film noir] off the blood," as if inviting sex and violence near him. Though he claims he
underlines the cultural mechanisms that made Vietnam possible, unwirmable, will "go anywhere, anytime,'' he does not. The film only shows him in Harlem,
and even inevitable"; that is, the "madness" of the war relates to the "madness" Times Square, and the East Village, repeating his "patrols" of the places he
of America's obsession with the difference of gender and race (Fuchs, 1991: finds most dangerous because of their racial and sexual others (Wemblad,
34, 47). Through a deft close reading, Fuchs charts how otherness shifts 2010: 81). In addition to danger, driving a cab promises both contact with other
throughout the film as Bickle positions himself against the city, blacks, repre- people and very little connection: the riders are present, but not engaged with
sentatives of the government (candidate Palatine), women, and finally himself. the cab driver, as each random (and not so random), passenger shows. Schrader
The film, unlike Vietnam War films of the 1980s, "reveals the disordering in fact claims that this isolation with others is the key to the script: "floating
effects and the disordered foundations of Vietnam, representing not the war, around in [a] metal coffin, seemingly in the middle of people, but absolutely,
but its dispersion" (Fuchs, 1991: 34). totally alone" (quoted in Grist, 2000: 127; italics in the original).
I would like to build on this analysis, its focus on Vietnam, though moving Bickle's job flirts with social relationships and allows for a rearview-mirror
away from its focus on personal madness as a reflection and dispersion of voyeurism that aligns with his compulsive viewing of television and pornog-
cultural madness. Madness implies that a norm is deviated; but difference, raphy. Through his rearview mirror, he possesses the passengers, their power
othering, and violence are constants in human experience and society. The or sexual prowess (notably, the film only focuses on passengers of his who have
madness of the film, therefore, is the norm of both modern and ancient socie- these tv.ro qualities, ignoring the others). As julian Rice notes, the film "is about
ties. The trauma of Bickle, however, is the result of a specific experience. a man who begins as a viewer of life, through the 'screen' of his cab window,
In a recent interview, when asked directly by Richard Schickel, "this guy's who then goes through the looking glass to become an 'actor' in a personal
a psycho. Or isn't he?", Scorsese responded, "He comes out of Vietnam. We fantasy" (Rice, 1976: 113).
don't know what happens to people in a war. Give a seventeen-year old kid a His interactions with Betsy and Iris similarly begin as voyeuristic stalking,
gun, get him into a battle situation, God knows what happens to him" (Schickel, first with Betsy outside the Palatine headquarters and later again with Iris
2011: 115). While the director, even such a recognized auteur, is not the final along the streets of the East Village. Voyeurism, as the character's dominant
authority on the film, his opinion can lead to greater critical insight and a better interaction with others, stresses the lack of connection betv.reen people, as it
386 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 387

is wistful, intimate, and completely one-sided, a stand-in for the desired object the film. In the first, he appears with the introduction of Betsy, staring at her
(Fuchs, 2005). Notably, it is v.rith Betsy and Iris that Bickle removes his military as she glides by in slow motion and Bickle's voice-over states, "She appeared
insignia. He is a civilian, so to speak, only when he is chasing patriarchal ideals: like an Angel, out of this filthy mess. They cannot touch her." Scorsese claims
the angel and the whore (although the film later complicates this dichotomy). that he did not originally plan to play the sick fare, but regardless the two
In these scenes, he is visibly ill at ease, looking stiff and formal in a maroon moments in which he places himself in the filr;n are inciting incidents, which
blazer v.rith Betsy and cowboy outfit with Iris (her pimp, Sport, takes Bickle provoke Bickle to action: first with the blond ideal of womanhood, and failing
for an undercover cop because he is so out of place). Out of his military jacket, that, with the prostitute and the black other. It is notable though that racial
he can also only imitate cultural types: the courting male, v.rith blazer and gifts dominance alone is insufficient for Bickle; even after he kills the black robber
for Betsy, and the cowboy; out to save a helpless damsel v.rith Iris. He attempts in the bodega he is not satisfied. Violence, in itself, is not his goal.
to convince first Betsy; and then Iris (repeating the scenes), that he knows their As indicated by the diaryentry, "I don't believe that one should devote his
needs ("You're a very lonely person"), that he knows what rhey must do ("You life to morbid self attention. I believe that one should become a person like
should be at home now. You should be dressed up. You should be going out other people," Bickle needs to conform, to accept cultural dictates. Bickle is
v.rith boys. You should be going to school."). His attitude toward them is typical caught between desiring to be like others and failing to coherendy engage v.rith
of the attitude of a combat soldier, who "views the civilian with a mixture of them, to comprehend the system he tries to navigate. Instead of imitating
idealization and contempt: she is at once innocent and ignorant" (Herman, others he admires, his models come from reactionary, traditional politics and
1992: 66). popular culture. The selection of weapons in the gun-purchasing scene, for
In his limited attempts to reconstruct his world, Bickle adopts a Manichean instance, relies on the iconic weapons of movie protagonists (Dirty Harry's
schema, in which sexual and racial difference dominates, in which subtleties .44 Magnum, james Bond's Walter PPK., Mike Hammer's Smith and Wesson),
and similarities are rejected. A key instance is the advice he seeks from Wizard all fetishized by the camera in loving close-ups and slow pans to overcompen-
(Peter Boyle), after Bickle admits, Tve got some bad ideas in my head." The sate for Bickle's phallic lack (Sharrett, 1993: 230).
scene is flooded in red light outside a cafeteria, and is prefigured by Bickle's The diary's entries are telling psychological fragments, as they do not allow
racist glaring at a Charlie T. (Norman Matlock), a black cab driver, and a group for a continuity and reflexivity of thought, but instead demonstrate displace-
of black youths. Wizard advocates finding oneself in one's work, getting drunk, ment and repression; his rants against the "whores, skunk pussies, buggers,
getting laid, accepting that everyone, in the end, is "fucked, more or less, you queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal" conceal his fascination with the sex
know;" to which Bickle replies, "That's about the dumbest thing I ever heard." trade, v.rith the others of New York. Even the apocalyptic rhetoric, which
The advice is hackneyed, but its essence is sound: identification in labor, enjoy- seems schizoid and particularly American, is connected to dominant, Western
ment of the body (physical engagement instead of voyeurism), and accepting strategies of othering. David Sibley links the film to a "history which casts
everyone's shared plight. Bickle finds it unacceptable, even unintelligible, minorities, 'imperfect' people, and a list of others who are seen to pose a threat
because he lacks self-definition, physical safety I autonomy, and empathy. to the dominant group in society as polluting bodies or folk devils who are
Instead, Bickle absorbs the advice of the sick fare (Scorsese), who speaks at then located elsewhere" (Sibley, 1995: 49). The repressed is the obsessive point
him from the backseat. The fare has Bickle pull over the cab to view his sil- of the disavowed self (for both Bickle and society), the site onto which all
houetted wife through a window, asking, ''You know who lives there? ... A negative qualities are displaced. The differentiation Bickle makes between
nigger lives there." He tells Bickle, "''m gonna kill her v.rith a .44 Magnum himself and the "garbage," between himself and those who act on their desires
PistoL ... You ever see what a .44 Magnum can do to a woman's face? I mean for sexual pleasure and differences, is revealed, through the narrative, as his
it would fucking destroy her.... Now; did you ever see what it can do to a real, repressed desire.
woman's pussy? That you should see." As the scene ends, the fare keeps asking
Bickle, "You think I'm pretty sick, huh?" while Bickle silendy stares up at the
woman in the window.
The scene combines several of Bickle's preoccupations: voyeurism, racism,
Violence and Power
and sexual difference, adding the answer to impotence: violence. The fare,
known in the screenplay as "professorial passenger," demonstrates for Bickle As a soldier, Bickle was both a disempowered pa\Vll and empowered killer
how a man can exert control, how through violence and subjugation one can of the Vietnamese population. His response to his trauma is complex, in
gain autonomy. It also marks the second, and final, appearance by Scorsese in that violence and agency are inextricably linked for him. In this respect, the
388 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 389

narrative aligns itself with Scorsese's multi-film interest in violence as an


attempt at agency. Robert Casillo (2006) delineates a central tension in Scors-
ese's Catholicism: the tension between sacred violence, as adopted and negated
in the sacrificial crucifixion of Christ, and the profane violence of man, which
is an attempt at divine power. Profane violence results not from strength, but
rather from "'an overt or secret lack, the abjectness, the inner emptiness" of
one's own being (Casillo, 1986: 284). This emptiness belies the autonomy such
violence supposedly demonstrates: "Incapable of desiring or judging for
himself, such a person inevitably imitates the desires and pursues the objects
of other persons" (Casillo, 1986: 284). This religious reading, which Casillo
demonstrates through several early Scorsese films, parallels the repetition
compulsion of psychological trauma (which is not surprising, considering that
Catholicism is born of the trauma of Christ's death).
A fascination with profane violence likely drew Scorsese to the veteran's
experience. Military violence for country is supposedly ideal, righteous, and
often, in the United States, religiously sanctioned and justified, but it is also
unstable, retaliatory, and limited by abstract rules of engagement that wither Figure 18.2 "Boom, boom." Taxi Driver (1976). Directed by Marrin Scorsese. Produced
in the moment of combat. Bickle's violence, once back in the United States, by Columbia Pictures Corporation Bill/Phillips, and Italo/judeo Productions.
is an attempt to sacralize violence without the sanction of the military. The
power he lacks, testified to by his failed interactions with Betsy and Iris, he
attempts to gain through violence, imbuing his actions with apocalyptic rheto- Slavoj Zizek (2005a) designates the film's climax a superb illustration of a
ric. His mercurial choice of targets, Palantine and then Sport, are tied to the passage al'acte. The passage al'acte is a "false exit, a way to avoid confronting
women with whom he is fascinated; they are the women's powerful father the horror of the phantasmatic netherworld" (Zizek, 2006: 59), the horror of
figures (Grist, 2000: 146). The men represent the power of patriarchy, as they the emptiness at the center of being (note the similarity benveen Casillo's
both control and excite women Bickle cannot. religious formulation and Zizek's Lacanian one). Bickle is not the one "man
As stated before, the source of Bickle's trauma is not knowable, but that his who would not take it anymore," as he claims, but rather one man attacking
targets are men who control women is provocative. Iris, as a child prostitute, himself (and others) for his lack of power, and it is only through suicide that
is a victim of sexual exploitation, if not rape. Considering the history of rep- he can maintain this temporary control. Bickle must end his life on high, so
resenting rape in relation to VIetnam veterans as a crime that haunts them to speak, having "'saved" Iris (similarly, before he tries to assassinate Palantine,
after their return, it is possible that Bickle, like Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in he sends a letter to Iris with money in it, saving her because he cannot "save"
Mean Streets, is trying to "make up for his sins in the streets" (Mean Streets). Betsy). As Zizek (2005b) compellingly argues, violent outbursts in American
By killing Sport and freeing Iris, Bickle can free himself from a past sexual cultural texts "enable us to discern the hidden obverse of the much-praised
assault. American individualism and self-reliance: the secret awareness that we are all
More explicitly, the climax of the film is the moment when Bickle gains helplessly thrown around by forces out of our control." Bickle's act is not the
power through victimizing others, seizing the power over life and death he had righteous act of a man besieged by wickedness, but rather the impotent act
as a soldier. Taubin hypothesizes that the scene enacts a hallucination: "the of repetition, the striking out at an other who mirrors, on an imaginary level,
hallucination of masculinity. It's the search for that image of ideal masculine himself. The wholeness he conjures during the famous (and very Lacanian)
wholeness that subtends the entire history of the movies" (Taubin, 2000: 21). mirror scene ('You talking to me?"''), is transitory, limited. The masculinity he
Yet he is not satisfied with simply killing Sport and his crew; his act can only conjures, gun in hand, while intoxicating, is a "misrecognition," one he cannot
be complete with his own death. When the police arrive, he lifts a bloodied sustain when confronting others who do not share his imaginary ideal (Lacan,
hand to his temple, makes the shape of a gun, and clicks his thumb twice, 2002: 8). It is only through death that he can finalize and concretize the image
intoning, "Boom. Boom" (Figure 18.2). This gesture, which he has made of wholeness. His lack of concern for Iris in this scene, her safety or her desire
before toward the porno screen, shoots what he cannot control or produce. for the murders of Sport et al., testifies to the solipsistic nature of his heroism.
390 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 391

The scene begins as Wizard, whose stories through the film have centered
The Controversial Ending around women as sex objects, tells Bickle and another cabbie: "This guy Eddie,
the owner operator, comes up and says, 'Hey I want to swap tires.' I say, 'Hey
The ending, split into two parts, is perhaps the most controversial aspect of these are new tires. Why don't you throw in something else, like your wife?'
the film, drawing ire on the believability of Bickle's celebration in media and His wife is Miss New Jersey of 1957." Bickle, laughing, has become one of the
his spontaneous mental recovery, leading one critic to posit it as a comatose guys.
hallucination, as Bickle's total break with reality (Caron, 1997). First, the The transformation is not final though. The fare that pulls him away from
camera pans the interior of Bickle's apartment, over newspaper clippings with the other cabbies is Betsy, now interested in him (she has finally become the
the headlines, "Taxi Driver Battles Gangsters," "Reputed New York Mafioso ··star-fucker" of Schrader's screenplay) (Schrader, 1990a: 10), and after he
Killed in Bizarre Shooting," "Parents Express Shock, Gratitude," "Hero Taxi refuses to take her money heiooks into the rearview mirror, the camera focus-
Driver to Recover," and finally a letter from Iris's parents. In voice~over, Iris's ing on his eyes and, in Scorsese's words, "the time bomb is beginning to tick
father reads the letter, expressing gratirude and hinting that Iris is contained again. It's going to happen again" (Schickel, 2011: 117). Bickle's identity comes
back home. Gone from the walls are the Palantine and "One of the days I'm at the cost of Iris's agency and, finally; Betsy's desire. As Barbara Mortimer
going to get organi-zized" posters. Bickle has refashioned his space, changing argues of Scorsese's films from Taxi Driver on, "while the notion of a clearly
the images he identifies with (political emblem; a highly motivated cliche of bounded coherent inner self (indeed the very notion of 'character') is discred-
a person) to representations of himself as a hero, as a savior: ''he has achieved ited [... ] the concept of masculinity is not" (Mortimer, 1997: 28). Such an
an identity through the narrative the newspapers have constructed, the only identity cannot be sustained without a repetition, without more violent
identity available to him other than that provided by his job" (Mortimer, 1997: therapy. Like Motor Psycho and The Visitors, Taxi Driver imagines a veteran
29). Unlike any previous scene in the film, it is devoid of charaaers, yet Bickle struggling for control over men through the bodies of women, replacing rape
is inscribed throughout. Paradoxically, with his absence comes his identity. with sexual repression.
Psychological trauma involves a dialectic of repression and testimony; there~
fore recovery from trauma follows a particular pattern: "The fundamental
stages of recovery are establishing safety, reconstructing the trauma story, and
Trauma Beyond Taxi Driver
restoring the connection between survivors and their community" (Herman,
1992: 3). In order for the victim to heal, they must feel the safety in their per-
sonal relationships to verbalize and reintegrate the trauma into their concep- History has validated the film in several, frightening ways. Focus on the film's
tion of sel£ The more extreme the trauma and the longer the repression, the prescience usually centers on the defense trial of John W Hinckley, Jr., who
more difficulty there is in establishing safety. Finally; and most difficultly; a in 1981 attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Hinckley's lawyers claimed
connection needs to be restored between the survivor and the community, the film influenced their client, who was obsessed with it and Jodie Foster
often through public testimony of the trauma in some form, either with other (whom he stalked and wanted to impress \Vi.th the assassination's historical
survivors or widely through social platforms. Recovery involves then, two dif- import). The Hinckley case, however, is simply another example of the way
ferent forms of narrativization: the recreation of personal narrative and the that art provides ready-made expressions for people's desires. A more dear,
creation of social narrative that acknowledges the survivor's trauma. and frightening, example is the celebration of Bernie Goetz, the "Subway
In the scene following the clippings and the letter Bickle huddles with the Vigilante." In 1984, Goetz, a Vietnam veteran (who similarly railed against the
other cabbies, he is finally framed \Vi.th them, tightly, as one of the group, dirt and scum of New York), entered a subway train and shot four black
without the awkwardness and anxiety that previously separated him through- youths. Although later investigation by biographers and reporters would show
out the film. Bickle laughs at jokes, even greers Charlie T, the black cabbie he that Goetz did not shoot in self-defense, New York, gripped in a long crime
previously viewed as threatening, and he is annoyed at having to leave the wave, rallied behind him. Tabloids labeled him the "Subway Vigilante" and
others when he gets a fare ('Ah ... Shit"). Not only has the media mistaken him ""Death WISh Shooter," graffiti proclaimed, ""POWER TO THE VIGILANTE;
for a hero, but their interpretation of his actions have given him a self he can N.Y. LOVES YA!," and newspapers and talk shows stressed the youths' sharp-
inhabit, an identity that allows him to be with others: hero and a taxi driver. ened screwdrivers (which they did not actually have) and the righteousness of
His identification with his work, and his coworkers, is possible only after the Goetz's act (Rubin, 1986: 5-9). People from all over the country sent money
newspaper clippings directly link his heroism with his job. for his defense fund, lawyers volunteered to take the case pro bono, and a grand
392 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 393

jury declined to charge Goetz with assault and attempted murder (at first). Casillo, R. (1986) Catholicism and violence in the films of Martin Scorsese. Inj.L Tropea,
Lillian B. Rubin, Goetz's biographer, links the incident to early instances in J.E. Miller, and C. Beatti·Repetti (eds), Support and Struggle: Italians and Italian Ameri·
Goetz's life and failing masculinity, claiming, "He would continue to suffer cans in a Comparative Perspective; Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference of the
American Italian Historical Association. Washington, DC: American Italian Historical
the doubts and anxieties - about father, about self - until perhaps one day,
Association, pp. 283-304.
with a blast from his gun, he would know finally he had become a man"
Casillo, R. (2006) Gangster Priest: The Italian American Cinema of Martin Scorsese. Toronto:
(Rubin, 1986: 142). University of Toronto Press.
The false answer to the trauma of Vietnam imagined in the film, namely Dostoyevsky, F. (1961) Notes from underground. In A.R. Mac..i\.ndrew (ed.), Notes from
violence against a new target, has been even more prescient. The denial and Underground, trans. A. MacAndrew. New York: Signet Classic.
repression of the horrors of Vietnam, not as a military failure but as a failure Farber, M. and Patterson, R (1976) The power and the gory. Film Comment, 12 (3):
of conscience and democracy, as a needless waste of human life perpetuated 26-30. "
on countless innocent civilians and soldiers by the US military establishment, Freud, S. (1909) Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. In J. Strachey (ed.), Standard
is explicitly demonstrated in George Herbert Walker Bush's formulation of Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Volume X. London:
the Vietnam War as a "syndrome" that the United States finally 'Kicked" with Hogarth Press, 1955, pp. 1-150.
the defeat of Iraqi soldiers (Bush, 1991). In this remark, Bush constructs the Friedman, L. (1997) The Cinema of Martin Scorsese. New York: Continuum.
Vietnam War as an illness the country must move past, not as a specific histori- Fuchs, C. (1991) 'All the animals come out at night": Vietnam meets Nair in Ta.ri Driver.
In M. lrnderegg (ed.), Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television. Philadelphia:
cal event that needs to be documented and communalized for trauma victims'
Temple University Press, pp. 35-55.
recovery (Tal, 1996). Similarly, in Taxi Driver, Palantine claims, 'We the people
Fuchs, C. (2005) Ta.ri Driver (1976): 'Tve got some bad ideas in my head:· In j. Gieger
suffered in Vietnam." and R.L. Rutsky (eds), Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. New York: Norton, pp. 696-
Finally, the larger question of trauma is not, in essence, whether or not 714.
Bickle has PTSD, but rather, as Ann Kaplan and Ban Wang insist, "whether a Garland, C. (2002) Thinking about trauma. In C. Garland (ed.), Understanding Trauma: A
culture is able to understand trauma as an episode in a longer chain of the Psychoanalytic Approach. London: Karnac Books, pp. 25-58.
structural mutations in modern systems that have accumulated a record of Grist, L. (2000) The Filrns of Martin Scorsese, 1963-77: Authorship and Context. New York:
violence, suffering, and misery" (Kaplan and Wang, 2004: 12). Despite its St. Martin's Press, Inc.
popularity, or perhaps because of it, Taxi Driver has not been viewed as a Herman,]. (1992) Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books.
meditation on the soldier's return, the history of traumatic repetition, and the Kaplan, E. and Wang, B. (2004) Introduction: from traumatic paralysis to the force field
enabling power of violence. Its message, however, is just as pertinent now, as of modernity. In E. Kaplan and B. Wang (eds), Trauma and Cinema: Cross-Cultural
thousands of American troops return home with scarred psyches, lost ideals Explorations. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University, pp. l-22.
and limbs, as the US government repeatedly tries to downplay and cover up King, S. (2010) Martin Scorsese on Elia. The Los Angeles Times, October 4. Online: http://
artides.latimes.com/ 2010 I oct/ 04/ entertainment/la-et-scorsese-kazan-2010 l 004
the human damage, the rapes and suicides of soldiers, all the while rhetorically
(last accessed March 31, 2014).
applauding the soldiers' sacrifice.
Kolker, R. (1988) A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman. 2nd
Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Krutnik, F. (1991) In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. London: Routledge.
References Lacan,J (2002) The mirror stage as formative of the i function, as revealed in psychoana-
lytic experience. In B. Fink (ed.), Ecrits: A Selection, trans. B. Fink, H. Fink, and R.
AFI.com (2007) AFI's 100 years ... 100 movies lOth Anniversary Edition. Online: http:// Grigg. New York: WW Norton & Company, pp. 3-9.
www.afi.com/ IOOYears/movieslO.aspx (last accessed March 31, 2014). Lang, D. (1969) Casualties of war. The New Yorker (October 18): 61-69.
Bush, G. (1991) Remarks to Veterans Service Organizations. The American Presidency Lourdeaux, L. (2010) Italian Irish Filmmakers. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Project. Online: http:/ /www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=19356#axzzlwrSEy617 Martin, R. (1997) Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The Legacy of Film Nair in Contemporary
(last accessed March 31, 2014). American Cinema, Lanham, MN: The Scarecrow Press.
Camus, A. (1989) The Stranger, trans. M. Ward. New York: Vmtage International. Mortimer, B. (1997) Portraits of the postmodem person in Ta.ri Driver, Raging Bull, and
Caron, A. (1997) The last temptation of Travis Bickle. Offscreen. Online: http://www The King of Comedy. journal of Film and Vtdeo, 49 (1-2): 28-38 .
.horschamp.qc.ca/ 9709/ offscreen~essays/ taxi_driver.html (last accessed March 31, Naremore,J (1998) More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts. Berkeley, CA: University of
2014). California Press.
394 Michael D. High Taxi Driver and Veteran Trauma 395

Page, K (1993) Going solo: performance and identity in New York, New York and Taxi Driver. Wood, R. (1980) Hollywood from Vtetnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia University Press.
In P. Kirkham and]. Thumin (eds), You Tarzan: Masculinity, Movies and Men. New York: Zizek, S. (2005a) The act and its vicissitudes. The Symptom Issue 6 (Spring). Online:
St. Martin's Press, pp. 137-143. hnp://www.lacan.com/symptom6_artides/zizek.html (last accessed March 31,
Quart, L. (1995) A slice of delirium: Scorsese's Taxi Driver revisited. Film Criticism, 19 (3): 2014).
67-71. Zizek, S. (2005b) Some politically incorrect reflections on violence in France & related
Rausch, A. (201 0) The Films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow maners. Online: http:/ /www.lacan.com/zizfra~ce.htm (last accessed March 31,
Press. 2014).
Ray, R. (1985) A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980. Princeton, NJ: Prin· Zizek, S. (2006) How to Read Lacan. New York: WW Norton & Co.
ceron University Press.
Rice, J. (1976) Transcendental pornography and Taxi Driver. journal of Popular Film, 5 (2):
109-123. Further Reading
Rubin, L. (1986) Quiet Rage: Bernie Goetz in a Time of Madness. Berkeley, CA: University of
California. Iannucci, M. (2012) Postmodern antihero: capitalism and heroism in Taxi Driver. Bright
Russell, P. (2006) Trauma, repetition, and affect. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 42 (4): Lights Film journal, 47. Online: http:/ /www.brightlightsfilm.com/47/taxi.php#5 (last
601--620. accessed March 31, 2014).
Sartre, J.P. (1964) Nausea, trans. L. Alexander. New York: New Directions Publishing.
Scarry; E. (1985) The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Schickel, R. (2011) Conversations with Scorsese. New York: Random House. Filmography
Schrader, P. (1972) Notes on film noir. Film Comment, 8 (1): 8-13. Now in A. Silver and
]. Ursini (eds.), Film Nair Reader, New York, Limelight Editions, pp. 53--64.
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, Zoetrope Studios, 1979)
Schrader, P. (l990a) Schrader on Schrader, K.jackson (ed.). London: Faber and Faber.
Schrader, P. (1990b) Taxi Driver. London: Faber and Faber. The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese, 1769)
Scorsese, M. (1989) Scorsese on Scorsese, D. Thompson and I. Christie (eds). London: Faber Casualties of War (Brian De Palma, Columbia Pictures, 1989)
and Faber. Coming Home (Hal Ashby, Jerome Hellman Productions, 1978)
Sharrett, C. (1993) The American apocalypse: Scorsese's Taxi Driver. In C. Sharret (ed.), Coogan's Bluff(Don Seigel, The Malpaso Company, 1968)
Crisis Cinema: the Apocalyptic Idea in Postmodern Narrative Film. Washington, DC: Death WlSh (Michael Wmner, Dino De Lauremtis Company, 1974)
Maisonneuve Press, pp. 221-236. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, Universal Pictures, 1978)
Sibley, D. (1995) Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference in the West. London: Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, The Malpaso Company, 1971)
Routledge. First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, Anabasis Investments N.V., 1982)
Stem, L. (1995) The Scorsese Connection. London: BFI. Full Metal jacket (Stanley Kubrik, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1987)
Swensen, A. (2001) The anguish of God's lonely men: Dostoevsky's Underground Man
Heroes (Jeremy Kagan, Universal Productions, 1977)
and &orsese's Travis Bickle. REN, 53 (4): 267-286.
Tal, K (1996) Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma. Cambridge, UK Cambridge
Letter to Elia (Kent Jones and Martin Scorsese, Far Hills Pictures, 2010)
University Press. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, Taplin-Perry-Scorsese Productions, 1973)
Taubin, A. (2000) Taxi Driver. London: BFI Publishing. Motor Psycho (Russ Meyer, Eve Productions, 1965)
Thurman, J (2005) Citizen Bickle, or the allusive Taxi Driver: uses of intertextuality. On The WateJfront (Eha Kazan, Horizon Pictures, 1954)
Serues of Cinema. Online: hnp://'WWw.sensesofcinema.com/2005/37/tax:i_driver/ Rolling Thunder (John Flynn, Twentieth Century Fox, 1978)
(last accessed March 31, 2014). The Searchers (John Ford, C.V Whitney Pictures, 1956)
TIME (2005) All-TIME 100 Movies. Online: http:/ I entertainment.time.com/ 2005/02/12/ Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, Columbia Pictures, 1976)
all·time-100-movies/#taxi-driver-1976-2 (last accessed March 31, 2014). The Visitors (Elia Kazan, Home Free, 1972)
Wernblad, A. (2010) The Passion of Martin Scorsese: A Critical Study of the Films. Jefferson, Walking Tall (Phil Karlson, Bing Crosby Productions, 1973)
NC: McFarland.
Whited, W. (2004) Travis Bickle; personal terrorist as "hero" Scorsese's Taxi Driver. In
W Wright and S. Kaplan (eds), The Image of the Hero; Selected Papers- 2004 Conference
- Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery. Pueblo, CO: Society for the
Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery, pp. 50-57.

View publication stats