What’s Up With That Ending?: Taxi Driver

The ending of Taxi Driver starts off with an intense shootout, and is followed by an aftermath that many interpret as Travis Bickle’s dying dream. Should we take it as reality or is this what Travis wishes was his ending?

The ending sequence begins with a violent shootout, where Travis swings in like the John Wayne hero he’s modeled himself to be. After failing to assasinate the Senator, Travis goes to save Iris (the young prostitute he befriended) by killing her pimp and client. Travis gets shot in the neck and the arm. The shootout ends with Travis bloodied on the couch  next to a crying Iris. A cop enters and Travis mimes shooting himself in the head. Travis leans his headback and stares up at the ceiling as the camera changes to a birds-eye view of the leftover carnage. It seems like Travis is dying right there and then on the couch.

Then we find that instead of dying in the shootout, Travis survives and becomes a local hero. “Taxi driver…” the headline reads on the newspaper clippings hung on Travis’ apartment wall.  We hear a thankful letter written by Iris’ parents. Iris has returned home thanks to Travis’ intervention.

This all feels quite implausible, that Travis was able to come out a hero despite having murdered several people in cold blood. It is possible  First of all, with the crazy mohawk and interaction with the cops, Travis looked like anything but a hero. Also, the easily spotted mohawked Travis was just seen approaching the Senator in a manner of attempted assassination. His wounds shown in the shootout, especially the one in his neck, seemed quite severe as well. And lastly, his gun was unregistered, which he mentions in the film after killing the store robber.

The next sequence and final scene we see Travis with his hair grown back as it used to be. We see Travis get into his taxi cab. As he is driving, we see Betsy in the rear view mirror. We only see her in the mirror, so he could easily be talking to himself and imagining all this, but then we see her get out of the car.

Betsy seems smitten and impressed with Travis, she mentions having read about his heroism in the papers. This I find the most difficult to believe. After that horribly awkward date, and that Travis continually stalked her afterwards, I don’t see how Betsy could have wanted to reconnect with Travis again.

But while several elements of these scenes seem to be very dream-like, it becomes clear from interviews with the writer Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese that they were not writing or filming it with the idea of a “dreamscape” in mind.Scorsese comments on the DVD commentary saying that the odd shot of Travis glancing at an unseen object in the mirror shows that he is like a “ticking time bomb” and will easily fall into rage and recklessness again. Or, as Paul Schrader puts it, that Travis is “not cured by the movie’s end. He’s not going to be a hero next time”.

The scenes after the shootout do seem too good to be true, as if it is Travis’ imagination running wild with the public reaction to him saving the day. But, keeping the filmmaker’s intention in mind, we put the facts and logistics aside and see what the film wants to get across by having these sequences be reality.

1976, New York, New York, USA --- Overhead view of the bloody aftermath of Travis Bickle's killing spree from Martin Scorsese's . --- Image by © Steve Schapiro/Corbis

All throughout the film, Travis has been looking for an outlet for his violent thoughts, a way to escape the loneliness that’s been plaguing him. And only by acting out violently is he able to escape it. When everything with Betsy fell through, Travis turned to the next best thing, Iris. By killing her pimp and her seedy client, he is able to live out and fulfill the hero fantasy. And right there to help him is the American media.

It is ironic that Travis, the perpetual outsider becomes celebrated in society by violating its laws. The law-abiding Travis was invisible, but the murderous Travis is a hero. This validates Travis’ criticisms of New York society (especially wrought in the tensions of post-Vietnam), which tolerates and praises violent behavior. But how society perceives him is entirely based on who’s at the end of the gun. Had Travis assassinated the politician, his fate would have been much different. But by killing grimy pimps and mobsters, Travis is a hero. And the media is right there to perpetuate it, to blow  up Travis’ heroism even further.

I do believe it is easy to see all the scenes after the shootout as Travis’ dream of wish fulfillment. The filmmakers filmed those scenes as the truth, that Travis got away with the murders but will end up murdering again. Of course the ending is still open to interpretation, but having the ending be truth shows how easily media and society feeds off of violence,  and those that are isolated from others can easily fall into it.

Scene Sound Off: Cape Fear

Martin Scorsese directed a remake of the 1962 film Cape Fear in 1991. Robert De Niro starred as the sadistic psychopath Max Cady, who after serving 14 years in prison for rape seeks vengeance on his former public defender, Sam Bowden. Cady blames Bowden for purposefully sabotaging his defense in order to make sure he went to jail.

One of the most pivotal elements of Scorsese’s remake is the added dynamic of Cady’s obsession with the Bowden’s young 15-year-old daughter. This relationship was not as explored in the original film. De Niro’s Max Cady manipulates young Danielle as another way to get revenge on his lawyer’s family. It also adds a pedophiliac perversion to Max Cady’s already sexually deviant character. It is Danielle’s narration that opens and closes Cape Fear, and the film can be viewed viewed through her relationship with Cady even more so than Sam Bowden’s.

The most pivotal scene in portraying this relationship, and perhaps the most notorious scene in the film, is the school scene. Max has entered Danielle’s school, posing as her new drama teacher. He meets her at the theatre where he, in a way, acts out and directs a scene of his own to coerce and seduce young Danielle. It is a quiet scene that halts the action and stops the audience dead in their tracks with it’s lingering sexual uneasiness.

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But what is so fascinating is that one of the most intense moments in the scene, where Danielle sucks Max Cady’s thumb before kissing him, was completely improvised by De Niro. Juliette Lewis knew from the script that De Niro would come close to her, possibly kiss her. But that moment was completely off-the-cuff. De Niro approached Scorsese about doing it, but did not let Juliette Lewis know. Scorsese set up two cameras simultaneously to get both actor’s reactions. This scene shows the power of improvisation works just as well on film as in theatre, and is masterfully acted by both De Niro and Lewis.

We see the power of Max Cady’s manipulation through his charismatic wickedness topped with fallacious southern charm. He waxes poetic about ecstasy and paradise, (He wants her moment ecstasy to be in his upcoming seduction, reach paradise through him.) talks philosophy to prove how wise he is. He appeals to her teenage struggle, validating her as a person to get on her good side. Her parents don’t understand her at all. But he does. He can be the one adult that really listens to her because he knows what she’s going through.

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After he is done getting inside her head, he then appeals to her desires. He asks her if she thought about him last night and if he can put his arm around her. We really see how fantastic Juliette Lewis is at portraying this young girl. Not only through the costuming, with her childish barrettes and mouthful of braces. But also in her mannerisms, the bashful avoidance of the eyes, the nervous giggling, they all fit a teenage girl to a tee. You can read so clearly both the embarrassment and joy she feels at receiving an older male’s attention. (Of course, it also helped that she had a real life crush on De Niro) It’s forbidden, scary, and exciting for her.

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When De Niro walks towards her, he slowly peers, taller than us, into the frame. As if we are in Danielle’s shoes, we see it from her point of view. The wolf looming in for his prey. The thumb-sucking moment is a genius idea of De Niro. There is something far more perverse about that than just kissing. This sexual predator convincing her to do this unusual act of penetration.

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The film opens with the narration of “My reminiscence. I always thought that for such a lovely river the name is mystifying: ‘Cape Fear’. When the only thing to fear on those enchanted summer nights was that the magic would end and real life would come crashing in.”

This may not be in the night, but the moment is enchanting and filled with the sexual mist of summertime for Danielle. The real life that comes crashing in happens towards the end of the film, when she realizes who that charming man turned out to be. It shows how easy adults can manipulate young girls sexually. Here was a girl just on the cusp of dealing with newly sexual feelings manipulated by this evil man. The end of her innocence was approaching (After all, her father declares in the film that “she’s not a child anymore”) and thusly ended in reign of Max Cady’s terror over her family.

Watch this engrossing and eerie scene below.

Top 10: Movie Music Moments

The marriage of two different art forms- the sounds in our ears and the image on screen- can take a scene far beyond what was written on paper. The power of music can be used to touch our hearts and minds. With a well-placed song or piece of music, a moment in film can be experienced on all levels, sticking in our head long after the credits roll. Here are just a few of them.

This list does not including dance or sing along moments, but a time when the soundtrack is used to heighten the moment. Also, there are far too many Quentin Tarantino music moments to choose from for this list. Opening titles of Kill Bill? The torture scene in Reservoir Dogs? Pretty much everything from Pulp Fiction? How can I even choose? Tarantino is a true genius at putting music to film. Just watch any one of his films.

1. The Sound of Silence – The Graduate 

The famous Simon and Garfunkel tune plays several times throughout the film, including the famous opening airport sequence. But it’s particular use here is the most effective, with the dream-like quality of the tune matched with the monotony of the heated and confining summer. His parents are constantly over his shoulder…and that once passionate and dangerous affair? It’s becoming listless and repetitive. The lyrics seem to be expressing the inner thoughts of Benjamin, we can understand the confusing thoughts he has inside but does not tell.

2. Don’t You Forget About Me- The Breakfast Club

John Hughes has many iconic music moments in his films- Oh Yeah from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, If You Leave from Pretty in Pink, If You Were Here from Sixteen Candles…the list goes on. The nostalgic songs and John Hughes ingenuity for flawlessly capturing the teenage psyche make for a perfect match. As the brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal all part ways, the Simple Minds hit starts to play. The princess kisses the criminal goodbye. They won’t say hello in school next morning. But for now, they have this. All of them had this one moment of abandoning their labels for a human connection. And it’s something they won’t ever forget.

3.  Where Is My Mind – Fight Club

The Fight Club ending has just taken you for a wild ride- revealing a mind-boggling twist and leaving the Narrator with his face half blown off. But for the first time in his life he believes that everything really is going to be fine. The drum intro of the Pixies song kicks in just as the buildings start to detonate. I don’t think there’s been a music moment so perfectly harmonious. Marla and The Narrator hold hands as the high rises collapse around them- the remnants of the anarchy and chaos that have just been inhabiting his mind. A very strange time in his life indeed.

4. Layla – Goodfellas

Martin Scorcese is a master of choosing music for his film. Where do you even start? Into the Fire from Goodfellas? De Niro’s entrance to Jumping Jack Flash from Mean Streets? Shipping Up to Boston from The Departed? t’s impossible to even pick one for this slot. Layla’s use in Goodfellas seems to be the most deserving. The wistful piano and wailing guitar of the second half of the Derek and the Dominoes tune brilliantly synchronizes with the camera slowly gliding over disfigured corpses and bloody murder scenes.

Two others I can’t help but mentioning use two of my favorite songs. The dreamy bubbegum pop song Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals plays with a flowing tracking shot as Henry charms his date- using a valet, skipping the line for the back entrance, getting the best table. Who could resist this glamourous life?

And the Mean Streets opening, (while it is mostly just a title sequence) Harvey Kietel’s character is having a late-night crisis- as he lays his head on the pillow The Ronnette’s Be My Baby kicks in as film footage of familial neighborhood moments play.

5. God Moving Over the Face of the Waters – Heat

The ending of Heat gives the audience the final culmination of the Pacino/De Niro showdown. The chase is over, and somehow it is perfectly expressed in this beautiful piece of music by Moby. Vincent has shot down the only man he has ever respected and understood. He didn’t want this to happen, he wanted to catch him, not kill him. But Neil would rather die than go to prison. In a heartbreaking final moment, they hold hands. That beautiful last shot combined with the rising score of Moby’s song makes for visual poetry.

6. Mass in C Minor, K. 427 – Amadeus

Several Mozart pieces are used in this scene, including Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 20, Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365, Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299, and Symphony Concertante, K. 364. But it’s the beautiful rising notes of the Mass in C Minor that really drives this scene home. Salieri both hates and loves Mozart’s genius, and we hear the beauty in Mozart’s music and can understand the tortuous pain Sailieri is going through with never being able to achieve such mastery.

7. La Mamma Morta- Philadelphia

1993’s Philadelphia was one of the very first mainstream films to bring the issues of the AIDS crisis, homosexuality, and homophobia to light. In this scene, with it’s stunning cinematography, Tom Hanks’ character is overcome with emotions while listening to Giordana’s opera Andrea Chénier. He narrates the aria’s lyrics for Denzel Washington’s character, his lawyer Joe Miller. “A voice filled with harmony. It says, Live still, I am life. Heaven is in your eyes. Is everything around you just the blood and mud? …I am love.” The lyrics and heartbreak in the aria touch his soul as he feels the sting of his deteriorating mortality. Joe Miller- who has been dealing with his own reservations and judgements about homosexuality- finally opens his eyes and just sees before him another human being. A human being who his suffering. And all questions he ever had about representing him are quelled.

8. A Real Hero – Drive

From the very beginning with the title scene set to Nightcall, Drive has an amazing soundtrack. In this scene, College feat. Electric Youth’s A Real Hero sets the tone for Irene’s day out with the enigmatic Driver. With the beautiful orange and yellow tinted landscape, you can almost feel yourself in the car with them, the breeze blowing in your hair. This and the song matched with the slow motion shot of the Driver carrying her son- you can feel the impact he is leaving on her.

I can’t not mention the other two scenes as well. Desire’s Under Your Spell plays as the camera slowly pulls in on Irene at her husbands party, distracted by her thoughts as it cuts to the Driver in his room. The lyrics “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I do nothing but think of you…” we can feel and understand the two of them being pulled to each other.

And the pairing of Riz Ortolani feat. Rina Ranieri’s Oh My Love with Ryan Gosling in that mask makes for an eerie shot and sequence.

9.  Don’t Stop Me Now- Shaun of the Dead

Beating zombies to death in time to the music of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now? That’s comedic genius!

10. In Your Eyes- Say Anything  

Cameron Crowe is another master of matching music to film, Tiny Dancer or pretty much any music in Almost Famous, Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden in Jerry Maguire, Everything In Its Right Place from Vanilla Sky, the list goes on. But the most iconic moment is Llyod Dobbler’s romantic gesture using Peter Gabriel’s beautiful song In Your Eyes, making the song a legendary symbol of youthful love.

Scene Sound Off: Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese’s biopic of the rage-fueled self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta is simultaneously painful and poetic. One of the most harrowing moments of the film comes near the climax when he is thrown in jail. The film perfectly captures the fruition of LaMotta’s inner conflict in this one scene.

Jake LaMotta is at his lowest point, he has finally hit rock bottom. Alone and imprisioned he is able to question and confront his life choices and behaviors. After cursing off the guards, he paces in the jail cell and tries to catch his breath. He puts his hand on the wall, and as the camera slowly moves in he starts banging his head against the wall nearly 10 times. He moves on to punching the wall tearfully screaming the word “why” each time he hits the concrete. Steadily at first, then faster and faster over and over as his screaming gets louder and more frenzied.

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Then he sits, crying in pain from the punches. He admonishes himself for being so stupid, and heartbreakingly cries “They called me an animal, I’m not an animal. I’m not an animal.” Because at this moment he truly feels like an animal, trapped and confined in a cage where he is unable to be a danger to anyone else, as he has been all is life. He is the only one left he can fight. The raging bull is tamed and left with nothing else but to finally face himself.

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The cinematography in this scene is stunning. His entire face is hidden in darkness, we see very little of him and can only hear his voice. He is shrouded in the shadows as if it uncomfortable for the audience to see him clearly. Such a vulnerable and devastating moment is too painful to watch and better peering in on than viewing nakedly.

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Although many of us don’t quite lead the life of such violence and high tension as LaMotta did,  there’s been times where all of us have felt like we were hitting a brick wall, making the same mistakes when we’ve sworn not to, doing something wrong instead of what we know is right. Whether we’re angry with ourselves or with life, we’ve all felt like violently breaking free of the confines we’ve found ourselves in. This scene not only does service to portray Jake LaMotta’s struggles, but also speaks on a human level by showing a type of despair that we’ve all felt at one point in our lives.

This is one of Robert De Niro’s finest work, demonstrating his much deserved Oscar win for the role. It is what I believe to be the greatest acting scene in film history. Watch it for yourself below. And better yet, watch the whole film for yourself. It’s a masterpiece.