One of the many views of Martin Scorsese’s Driver in Schipholtaxi is how strangely it covers the time in which it was made. Established in 1976, both the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal were still fresh in the minds of the American citizens, with the overwhelming sense of disappointments and distrust of the political establishment that can be seen in the different way in which candidate Senator Palantine’s presidential campaign in 2016 is depicted. The economy was in the binge of chaos, with New York City only slightly avoiding bankruptcy the past year.
Crime rates were continuously increasing, contributing in a way that the city was suffering an urban norms and trends, characterized by the pimps, prostitutes, pushers and petty criminals who populate the streets in Scorsese’s movie, and exacerbated by the mountains of disgusting trash piles left behind due to the garbage strike that was ongoing during the film’s shoot. Added to this, the attempted assassination in the film’s finale evoked painful memories of the public killings of Martin Luther King Jr, John and Robert Kennedy, and other famous figures.
Another of Taxi Driver’s virtues is how priceless and timeless a character Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle is. An isolated, hopeless psychotic loner, he took the job of a night-time cabbie in order to give him something to as much as anything else. Although a cause for his deteriorating mental state is hinted at through the early revelation that he is a Vietnam vet, there’s no explicit assumption that all of his actions and behavior can be explained by post-traumatic stress. Instead, we get the sense that Travis has always been predisposed to be detached and resentful towards the rest of society.
If Travis was supplanted into the 21st century, he’d be exactly the kind of angry young man who open to radicalization by the alt-right. There are clues throughout of Travis’ racism, in line with a more subconscious manner than the more thorough idealised theories talked by white supremacist movements. He is forever being distracted by the existence of black people, whether those on the streets whom he eyes with disgust from the driver’s seat of his cab, or those simply sat among the customers at a diner.