Sunday, August 17, 2008

***Warning: Spoilers and Ranting***


Been trying to knock a few AFI Top 100 Films off the list while house/cat-sitting this weekend. Watched "Taxi Driver" tonight. And excuse my language, but "What the hell?!"

Scorsese, you're a decent film-maker, a little self-indulgent at times (okay, a LOT of the times), but overall, your films are far from "bad cinema." All the same, though...what were you thinking when you took on this project?!

A lonely, screwed up guy gets sick of the way things are, so he goes on a SHOOTING SPREE, after, by the way, almost assassinating a senator for...revenge? attention? Between popping pills and downing alcohol, he's visiting porno theatres, arming himself with 4 firearms and a knife from some seedy traveling salesman, and practicing intimidation in his mirror at home.

Not that he isn't a sympathetic character...I feel bad for him. I totally understand why he does what he does. What I have a problem with is when he gets treated like a HERO for it.

Seriously? Travis Bickle is shooting people's hands off! And I don't think its out of a sincere well-thought-out desire to rescue an underage prostitute. He's miming shooting HIMSELF in the head, since none of the actual guns worked, surrounded (and covered in) blood, when the police find him. Does this really sound like the kind of guy to model inner city reform after?

And after all of this, he's in the papers as a HERO! He's got letters of thanks coming in! He even almost kinda GETS THE GIRL! Its not realized, but you know that if he had asked to come up, she would have let him! How is this at all okay? Taking the whole "anti-hero" concept a little too far here, I think.

I think the movie would have been brilliant if it had ended right after Travis went on his little shooting spree, and sat on that couch, miming suicide. Filled with self-loathing. This is not a man who did a "brave thing." This is a man so confused and torn up about what he sees going on around him, that he's filled with despair to the point of desperation. At least I think the film would have been way more powerful if that had been the case.

No wonder John Hinckley watched this movie obsessively. And attempted to assassinate Reagan.

I guess I kinda brought a different perspective to this film, having known the background relating to John Hinckley. But do you see the problems I have with this? The flaws I see?

Just to provoke further thought, and perhaps make further connections, take Sondheim's words, here. This is from the opening number of "Assassins." This is sung by both the assassins and a "Proprietor," selling guns to each of them.

Hey, pal- feelin' blue?
Don't know what to do?
Hey, pal-
I mean you-
yeah. C'mere and kill a president.

No job? Cupboard bare?
one room, no one there?
Hey, pal, don't despair-
You wanna shoot a president?
c'mon and shoot a president...

Some guys
Think they can be winners.
First prize often goes to rank beginners.

Hey, kid, failed your test?
Dream girl unimpressed?
Show her you're the best
If you can shoot a president-

You can get the prize
With the big blue eyes,
Skinny little thighs
And those big blue eyes...

Got the right
To be happy.
Don't stay mad,
Life's not as bad
As it seems.

If you keep your
Goal in sight,
You can climb to
Any height.
Got the right
To their dreams...

Hey, fella,
Feel like you're a failure?
Bailiff on your tail? Your
Wife run off for good?
Hey, fella, fell misunderstood?
C'mere and kill a president...

What's-a wrong, boy?
Boss-a treat you crummy?
Trouble with your tummy?
This-a bring you some relief.
Here, give
some hail-a to da chief-

Got the right
To be different
Even though
At times they go
To extremes.
Aim for what you
want a lot-
Gets a shot.
Got a right
To their dreams-

Got the right
To be happy.
Say, "Enough!"
It's not as tough
As it seems.

Don't be scared
You won't prevail,
Free to fail,
No one can be put in jail
For their dreams.

Free country-!
-Means your dreams can come true:
Be a scholar-
Make a dollar-
Free country-!
-Means they'll listen to you:
Scream and holler-
Grab 'em by the collar!
Free country-!
-Means you dont have to sit-
That's it!
-And put up with the shit.

Got the right
To some sun shine-
Not the sun
But maybe one
Of its beams.
One of its beams.

Rich man, poor man
Black or white,
pick your apple,
Take a bite,
Just hold tight
To your dreams.
Got the right
To their dreams...

Is this really the attitude that's going to change society for good? Are John Hinckley, Lee Harvey Oswald, Samuel Byck, Charles Guiteau and John Wilkes Booth so different from Travis Bickle? Simply men who didn't like the way things were, so they took matter into their own hands.

What if EVERYONE acted as "heroes" in the same way Travis Bickle does? He did what he had to do, and he made a positive change. But too haphazardly, I fear. I certainly don't want society "taking things into their own hands" in this way. That wouldn't make a better world at ALL.

Everybody's got a right to be happy. I think Travis Bickle wanted to be happy. He wanted Iris to be happy. But what about Matthew? What about the hotel proprietor? What about the kid who tried to rob the convenience store? The guy in the hotel room? Senator Palantine? What about their right to be happy? If they forfeited that right through their poor treatment of others, shouldn't Travis Bickle forfeit that right as well?

I would submit that happiness that comes with bloodied hands is no kind of worthwhile happiness.

(Ya hear that, Scorsese?!)

Note: Rebuttals, corrections, alternate opinions, and counter-arguments welcomed in the comments box.

**ADDENDUM: My good friend and fellow film enthusiast Jeff pointed out that its supposed to be IRONIC. Well, I recognize that, but to me, the irony simply wasn't strong enough. I need more than a twitch in the rear-view mirror to show me that Travis Bickle is still screwed up. This is one case where I don't believe less is was simply too subtle. I think stronger opposites would have been more effective in this case.**

1 comment:

  1. I like you.... I wish people believed in optimism/positive change/idealism more, cause I certainly do and sometimes I feel lonely. I miss you Liz