A lot has been written about this film by people who know it a lot better than I do, so I’m gonna preface this by saying what I want to do with this piece is not a full analysis of the film, but rather snippets of thoughts and ideas that ran through my head when I watched it Thursday last at the Castro Theatre. I first saw Taxi Driver when I was about 15 (I rented it on VHS and I did not tell my parents) and I don’t think I really understood what I was watching. Really, going into the screening on Thursday, all I remembered from the film was the scene where Robert De Niro takes Cybill Shepherd to the porno theater. That was the first time I ever saw porn. Needless to say, it was shocking. Believe it or not, that was the only time I’d seen the film before this last time. So I have only seen it twice now. I’m guessing it’s a movie that gets richer each time you watch it, much like my favorite Scorsese film, 1985’s criminally under-seen After Hours. I would also like to mention that 1976 is a year where I can’t really say I wish one film beat another film. For me, it’s a year where all of the nominees are so important and so different, that choosing just one seems like a disservice. Well, four of them, anyway, as I have not yet seen Bound For Glory. Although Taxi Driver won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes film festival, it received only four Academy Award nominations and failed to win in any of the categories: Best Picture, Best Actor Robert De Niro, Best Supporting Actress Jodie Foster and Best Original Score. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were All The President’s Men, Bound For Glory, Network and winner Rocky.
Marlin: Dory. If it wasn’t for you, I never even would have made it here. So, thank you.
Dory: Hey! Hey, wait a minute. W-w-wait! Where are you going?
Marlin: It’s over, Dory. We were too late. Nemo’s gone and I’m going home now.
Dory: No. . .no, you can’t! S-s-stop! Please don’t go away. Please? No one’s ever stuck with me for so long before. And if you leave, if you leave. . .if you leave. . .I just, I remember things better with you. I do. Look, P. Sherman, forty-two. . . forty. . .two. . .agh! I remember it, I do. It’s there, I know it is because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I, I look at you and. . .I’m home. Please. I don’t want that to go away. I don’t wanna forget.
Marlin: I’m sorry, Dory, but I do.
Best Picture – “The Artist”
Best Actor – Brad Pitt for “Moneyball”
Best Actress – Michelle Williams for “My Week with Marilyn”
Best Supporting Actor – Albert Brooks for “Drive”
Best Supporting Actress – Melissa McCarthy for “Bridesmaids”
Best Director – Martin Scorses for “Hugo”
Best Screenplay – Moneyball
Best Cinematography – Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Tree of Life”
Best Documentary – “Project Nim”
Best Foreign-Language Film – “Incendies”
Best Animated Film – Rango
Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer) – Christian Marclay for “The Clock”
Best New Filmmaker (awarded in memory of David Brudnoy) – Sean Durkin for “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Best Ensemble Cast – Carnage
Best Use of Music in a Film – Tie: “Drive” and “The Artist”
“Have you ever heard of the story of the scorpion and the frog?” the nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling) asks movie-producer-turned-mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) towards the end of Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece Drive. In that one line, when you put it in context, you get everything you need to know about the character. Heck, he’s even wearing a jacket with a scorpion on it for 99% of the film.
There has been much said about the hyper-violence that punctuates Refn’s otherwise hypnotic drama. Some love it, some think it detracted from the story.
I happen to think Refn’s execution of the violence was pitch perfect and Gosling’s superb performance just reinforces the story’s message: you can’t escape your nature.
The Driver doesn’t think about his violent acts; he just does them. They’re part of his nature, the way he instinctually reacts to certain situations. Think Viggo Mortensen’s character in A History of Violence.
He’s clearly tried to repress them in his day-to-day life – hence his day job as a mechanic. He’s even tried to find other outlets for his violent nature (i.e. his other two jobs).
But he just can’t help it; it’s in his nature. And when these explosions of violence happen what’s most interesting is the look on the Driver’s face afterwards, especially in the elevator scene. He did what he had to do, but he’s both appalled that he did it and appalled that someone so dear to him had to witness it.
There’s another telling moment in the film that I really loved. When the Driver is talking to the son of Irene (Carey Mulligan) while the two watch cartoons. He asks if the shark in the cartoon is a bad guy and the son immediately says yes. The Driver asks him how can you tell? The son says he looks like a bad guy, plus have you ever seen a good shark?
I found that scene particularly fascinating because again the Driver is wrestling with his inner demons. He knows he is a violent man, he knows that he does illegal things; that he is, in some shape or form, a “bad guy.” Yet, you wouldn’t be able to tell that from looking at him.
I also love when Gosling and Brooks face off at the end. Like the Driver, Brooks’ Bernie is a man who is violent by nature. This scene is like all the great showdowns in classic Westerns; only instead of guns the two exchange false promises, both knowing the other is figuring out just the right moment to strike. They’re both scorpions and neither one wants to let the other across the river.
While Gosling’s performance may be too subtle for Awards Season, I’m thinking Brooks’ performance won’t be forgotten – Hollywood loves to “rediscover” someone, especially in a bravado performance that is so completely against type.
The last thing I wanted to mention is how much I love all the attention to detail that Refn put into this film. He won Best Director at the Cannes film festival in May, and rightfully so.
There’s this amazing color story throughout the film. Mostly in shades of teal blue and this sort of golden amber color. Everything from the streetlights to the bedspread in a motel fit into this color scheme. As the film progresses and the violence increases the amber begins to turn into this darker red color. It’s just fucking brilliant.
I’ve seen this film in theaters three times now and I still want to see it again. and again. and again. It’s everything I want in a film. If it’s playing near you, I urge you to go and give it a chance yourself.