Paul (Joseph) Schrader Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Taxi Driver, written by Paul Schrader, centers on Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine] who becomes a New York taxi driver, who is willing to drive at night even in the riskiest parts of town, who lives a lonely, grubby life even though he makes an adequate living, who keeps a journal, who goes from ten hours' nightwork straight to porno films because he can't sleep, who develops a crush on a distant blonde beauty, fails with her, then assumes a knightly stance toward a twelve-year-old prostitute in the East Village. He shows increasing signs of psychosis, arms himself with a knife and several pistols, attempts the life of a political candidate for whom the blonde works, fails, then kills the pimps of the child-whore. There is a postlude after the presumed finish, intended to be ironic but which only blazons the defects of what has gone before and crystallizes the picture's ultimate insignificance.

Schrader is the author of a book called Transcendental Style in Film, a study of three directors including Robert Bresson, and it's apparent that, despite the torrent of violence and violent language, he has based this script on Bressonian models…. But the more that this script reminds us of Bresson, the more Schrader reveals a recurrent fault in latter-day American film-making: the imitation of the form and movement of a good European model without rooting the work in sources like those from which the model grew. The hero of Pickpocket is, for Bresson, a tiny, lonely digit in the infinite calculus of God. The hero of Taxi Driver is a psychotic, nothing more, and his story is a case history, nothing more. It's as if one were to copy Macbeth including the murders for career-advancement but omitting the spiritual withering of the murderer.

The episode with the blonde shows further Schrader's bungling, strategically and tactically. After [Bickle] makes clear his adoration and near-reverence, the girl—seemingly impressed by his fervor and his awe—consents to go out with him. Where does he take her? To a hard-core porno flick. She soon leaves in disgust and refuses to speak to him again. His choice of films might be seen as a symptom of...

(The entire section is 902 words.)