Script vs. Movie: Taxi Driver

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screenwriter: Paul Schrader

Main Actor(s): Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybil Shepherd

Cinematographer: Michael Chapman

Date: 1976

SPOILER ALERT! (in case you, like me, have been living under a rock and haven’t seen this movie)

During my week off from school I promised myself that I would read at least one script and watch the associated movie. I chose Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver because I already had the script and the movie is currently streaming on Netflix. I had heard it was an excellent movie, of course, but I had had no interest in seeing it. (By the way, my not being interested in something has little to do with whether or not that something is actually worthwhile!) In any case, I bit the bullet and watched it.  I was eager to discover the differences between the script and the movie, and to try to figure out why those choices were made.

I found that the script had more information about Travis’ daily cab life, more racial contempt (other than the stick-up scene, where the movie has the store owner savagely beat the black robber’s corpse – geez! The script doesn’t have that), and more steely stoicism in his facial expressions.  The flow of the script made a little more sense to me than the movie, particularly a scene in the movie in which Charlie T calls Travis “killer” before he’s even bought a gun. In the script, Charlie says this after the stick-up scene where Travis is, indeed, a killer.

In the script, Travis picks up the crazy murderous passenger (turning point) right after he turns against Betsy, showing up at her job to yell at her. Then, after listening to the psychotic passenger, he buys the guns, goes to the firing range, then meets Iris for the first time. So, in the script, he encounters here a forked path – he can either use his guns to become an assassin or use them to rescue a little girl. At that point both options are just as feasible; he hasn’t yet committed to either path. After this he goes to the porno theater again and right afterwards we see that he’s chosen the assassin’s path (for now); he starts practicing. He is devolving into increasing levels of abnormality. So, in the script, it makes sense that the stick-up is right after this: he has attracted this violent experience because violence is on his mind. After this, in the script, he knocks over his TV absent-mindedly while watching the soap opera couple’s cheesy interaction. This makes sense because he is frustrated with his attempts to have the perfect girl, and the perfect relationship. He acknowledges subconsciously that it’s out of his reach. Psychologically, this flow of events in the script, which was altered considerably in the movie, made a bit more sense to me.

However!  Overall, the movie was better than the script because it was tighter. DeNiro wonderfully shows Travis’ awkward misfit status. My heart broke for him when Betsy left him standing in the street, bewildered as to why she would walk out on their surprise porno date. He is tragically out of touch – but he means well. Once the relationship is aborted, in his twisted way of thinking, it makes sense that he wants to destroy someone who Betsy admires. He wants to get her attention and prove his superiority. She represents respectable society and fitting in, something Travis just can’t manage to do. Luckily, Travis saves Iris just as Iris saves Travis. By the end of the movie he is no longer interested in “fitting in”. His unexpected hero status and simple life is enough now.

I loved the originality of these characters and the surreal trashiness of this world. In spite of the racism, which repelled me, I enjoyed this movie a lot.

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