Thursday, 31 January 2013

Taxi Driver & Shame


To really explain the notions of isolation and loneliness one has to look into the mind frame of someone living in the conditions of paranoia and madness. For someone to know that they are insane or they are going insane reinsures person that there is some sanity left in them, knowing that this person is aware of his or hers mind frame. However for someone to not know what is happening to their mind unaware that they are just simply going insane creates a sense of loneliness and to be paranoid of the surrounding public can make someone believe that they are truly isolated. New York City being one of the most over populated and the busiest cities in the world any mood can be amplified significantly. To feel lonely in a small town with a small population can feel very normal but to feel lonely in a massive busy city with a high population you would feel very secluded. Going insane in a big city can also be much more intensified rather than in a small town. The violence and crime rate is a fine example of comparing the small city to a larger city. Looking at Travis in Taxi Driver we are taken into a journey of insomnia, paranoia, obsession and slowly descending to madness. If we look into Shame addiction can also show notions of isolation and loneliness. Both films have similar ways of expressing these notions with particular scenes; the positioning of our protagonists, how other characters treat the protagonists and how Travis and Brandon see the world through the projection of their own mind. With Travis’s mind fixed in paranoia, obsession and driving him to madness and Brandon with sexual addiction slowly taking over his life.

In Taxi Driver we are always subjected to the back streets of New York. In most films we’re always taken around the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. In Taxi Driver we’re constantly driven around the more dangerous and crime ridden areas. We’re in the city centre but not Off Broadway but perhaps Off Off! Broadway. With Travis’s day and night Taxi routes we are relentlessly exposed to these areas and his repulsive views on New York. “I think someone should just take this city and just... just flush it down the fuckin' toilet.” In most New York films the cinematography is always typically the same; bird’s eye view shots looking down the busy streets of New York,  low angle shots looking upwards to monstrous like buildings over shadowing the people and the glamorous typical locations of Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge and  Broadway. Through the cinematography we only truly see New York through Travis’s taxi cab almost as if we’re in the cab with Travis looking out into New York. But being inside with Travis and his cab we begin to feel confined and trapped with him and his paranoia. For someone to look into world as a film rather than as a reality is the first stepping stone into paranoia and madness. Having Taxi Driver as an opening sequence of the cheap shady bars, strip clubs, 24 hour liquor stores and adult movie cinemas, of course the people we see are the typical crowd that hang out in these areas; street hookers, pimps, drug addicts and alcoholics. All these elements help fuel the illusion for the projection of Travis’s mind. What Travis sees is what the audience sees and what Travis feels is what the audience will feel. All the mise-en-scene and cinematography that Martin Scorsese uses are all an external projections of Travis’s mind. Through Travis’s mind we are taken through New York on his perception of what New York is and we see his sanity slowly slip with the inner monolog.

Too get a better understanding of who is Travis we have to look at the emotional physiological and physical journey he undertakes in this film. Suffering from insomnia there’s a persistent feeling of been wide awake and charged. Every time Travis takes medication there’s always a Non-diegetic sound. In the taxi carriage scene when Travis takes his medication both inside the cab and out there’s an electric charge in the background. Both times Travis’s actions give the impression that he is being filled with adrenaline and almost as is he being recharged. The second time he takes his medication is in the café. This scene creates a misconception that Travis’s brain is being almost vaporized or perhaps mesmerised. When Travis puts the tablet in the glass he begins to bizarrely stare at the glass as if he loosing himself from reality. The dissolving tablet in the glass is a perfect visual example of Travis’s inner mind slowly loosing grip in reality. As Travis slowly becomes more delusional the atmosphere of Taxi Driver begins to question what is real and a figment of Travis’s imagination. To help fuel the illusion of Travis’s imagination the use of colour is heavily over whelming in particular scenes. The red, amber and green of traffic lights or the flashing lights from the bars and clubs are a fantastic visual expression of Travis’s moods. The framed shots of the reflection of Travis’s eyes in mirrors are not a reflection of Travis eyes but a reflection of his paranoia. When we first see Travis we only see the reflection of the rear view mirror of his eyes and at the end when he drops off Betsy the last we see of Travis is darting paranoid eyes looking into the rear view mirror as if to say the paranoia and madness is only at bay and that he’s a ticking time bomb waiting to explode once again.

To show more isolation and distance from people, the framing on Travis always seemed to make him the centre of the screen. Walking around the streets of New York or in the R rated movie theatre people always seem to stay away from Travis and keep their distance. Even when Travis is with his fellow cabbies he’s almost distant from them both physically and emotionally. The cinematography always frames Travis in isolated positions and the locations used always seems to be a representation of Travis’s own coffin. The major element of what’s making Travis go insane is insomnia and his insomnia his fuelled by his paranoia which he gets from driving his cab. So the one thing that Travis seems to have is actually killing him. Throughout Taxi Driver the cab is a symbol of Travis’s perception of New York and inside the cab is a window into what he thinks is the world. For someone to feel that they are looking into society rather than being a part of society fuels the mind of being isolated and lonely.

 New York City is full of millions of people who walk by each other; share the same train carriages and busses but each individual are disconnected with each other. We see all kinds of people that represent different class status of New York; Pimps represents the womanising dead beats, the prostitutes are a representation of sex, drug addicts are the corrupted and men in businesses suits that look like they work in Wall Street are the yuppie culture. In a city fuelled by this inner electricity to be surrounded by people, not to feel so isolated they surround themselves in tight overcrowded places, though physically they are surrounded by people however emotionally they a miles apart. In Taxi Driver we can see such urban isolation not only with Travis but with other characters in Taxi Driver. Though Travis is positioned and seated in way to show that he is distant from them the other fellow cabbies and Wizard all hint at they also don’t have stable home lives and they too have to work nights and weekends to keep busy. With Brandon’s sister “Sissy” is another example of someone with an unstable home life. Constantly moving around deciding to move to New York but once again she finds herself alone. Singing the Cover of “New York New York” which is meant to glamourizes the city. Sissy sings the original lyrics but performs the song that presents her and Brandon which is being so distant and isolated. Perhaps Sissy represents the naïve dream of going to the big city and becoming a big star but a dream that is shattered. When we are first introduced to Tom and Betsy at the Palatine HQ it seems that the two of them are slightly flirting with each other and not working when the other volunteers are rushing around working. However the two have no personal connection and the only scene we see them talking is them two having small talk. Scenes when Travis picks up customers they completely ignore him and act as if he doesn’t even exit. The violence and hate he sees on the streets seem to work its way into the back of his cab making him almost believe that New York is hell. In one of Travis’s monologs he says “Each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights, I clean off the blood.” The cum is representation of the prostitutes, R rated theatres and brothels and the blood is the violence, madness and hate. When Travis picks up the two passengers the businessman and a prostitute the both of them seem to be going at it at the back seat of the cab. Travis looks at them through the rear view mirror. Which shows two things; the first being that the two people have no disregard for Travis and the second is just like the windows in the taxi cab the rear view mirror is a representation of Travis’s window into his paranoia which we see at the start and end of the film. This vicious circle of paranoia is the same in Shame but instead of paranoia it is sex addiction. How we see Brandon have sex with countless women at the start and he gazes upon a married women on a train and we never see her again until the end of the film, which shows again that his addiction to sex is never gone and that we’re back to square one.  

Just how Scorsese frames Travis cab windows and mirrors to represent a movie, Brandon in Steve McQueen’s Shame is always positions and framed in similar ways. When Brandon walks through the streets of New York and gazes upon an apartment block. Each window is almost a representation of computer screen. When we see two couple having sex it’s almost as if the pornography that Brandon watches day and night on his computer is the same thing as looking at this apartment block. Showing that where ever he goes there’s no hiding that he’s addiction seems to be everywhere. The same as Travis with his cab slowly killing him Brandon’s addiction is starting to take its toll on him. How this relates to isolation and loneliness is the constant reminder in Brandon’s day to day life how is addiction is isolating him. When Brandon’s sister and friend meet up and begin to get hot and heavy in the cab with Brandon sitting right next to them. Again Brandon is in the same position as Travis was with the prostitute and businessmen. Both of them being pushed aside with total disregard the two couple in Shame and Taxi Driver isolates our protagonists. Just how the constant reminder of sex and prostitution in Taxi Driver follows Travis, Brandon has to follow his sister and friend to his apartment block the only time he is physically alone is when they get inside the lift without Brandon.
By looking into the physiological and physical perception of Shame and Taxi Driver you can see how both our protagonists reside in New York. New York City labelled as the city that never sleeps it seems ideal for Travis to work in. Keeping busy, working nights and weekends surely seemed like a reliable way to work yourself to sleep or perhaps death but instead it drove Travis insane. With already an unstable mind being a Vietnam veteran and drinking during the day to keep his inner demons at bay. Brandon being addicted to sex is the same as a person addicted drugs. There’s always a need for a reliable source get your fix and New York is the place. At the start of Shame we see Brandon having sex with different women everyday he seems to pay for some or perhaps he pays for all of them. Both our protagonists have chosen to live in New York to get what they wanted but it only fuelled their paranoia or obsession, resulting them for being so isolated and secluded. To live in a city so alive and full of people to feel so alone, isolated and disconnected must be so much more amplified


  1. very nice commentary.
    I saw yesterdey Shame, and today in the morning I was discussing the movie with a friend, I told him this movie has the same elements of Martin Scorcece Taxi Driver, the two characters are like the buildings one close to another in this enourmes city, but never connected with each other, both movies show the cold and emptinies reflected by the city of New York in the faces of Brandon and Travis. After the chat with my friend I google Taxi Driver, Shame and here I am. Glad I was not alone in this reflection.

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