I thought I’d make my first ever post one about one of my favourite films. Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and how it holds up next to what I believe is the modern day version of it, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler.
In Taxi Driver, we see an veteran who now works nights driving around the city. Where better to highlight the pitfalls of humanity than New York? Scorsese’s film paints the Big Apple as a hive of scum – because we’re watching it through Travis Bickle’s eyes. He is a man at war with himself, suffering through insomnia and his hatred of the day to day public: pimps, hookers and politicians. Though he imagines that the reason he’s out at night is because he can’t sleep, it’s clear that the real reason Travis works nights is because he’s just as much a creature of the night as the people he despises.
Like Travis Bickle, Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom is a man who belongs to the night. From the first scene we see him in, breaking into a junk yard, he’s a person who belongs in the darkness. Unlike Travis, he’s far more charismatic – with an eerie, unnerving determination that he forces on every opportunity he encounters. But both of these men, who work and flourish at night, fancy themselves the heroes of their own story. Both of them think they belong to the day. In both men, we see the public through their lens: with Lou it’s a camera lens and with Travis it’s the windows of his taxi.
For Travis Bickle, portrayed with subtlety and skill by Robert De Niro, his key to ‘the light’ is to save Iris. Before he gets there, he toys with the idea of murdering a politician – which would get him public attention but not the happiness he deserves.
For Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, the ‘light’ is stardom. In that respect, he’s similar to another one of De Niro’s characters, Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy. The dogmatic pursuit of stardom that Bloom undertakes, filming the accidents and eventually staging them himself, shows he’s willing to go anywhere and everywhere to make ‘it.’
Unfortunately for both Bickle and Bloom, their individual pursuit of greatness is equally flawed. Where Bickle’s accolades for saving Iris in a bloody showdown are most likely imagined, Bloom captures the footage he needs but willingly sells his soul for it. Both men get what they want – but the beauty of the films is that we as the audience know their accomplishments are unnatural.
Despite Travis Bickle’s narration throughout, and his speeches to Iris about how she shouldn’t live the way she does, he is not the hero he thinks he is. Instead, he’s a loner and a weirdo who we watch nearly take the life of an innocent man. Though he tries to make us sympathise with him, his efforts fall short.
Lou Bloom suffers a similar fate. He gets what he wants, recruiting interns and new vans and moving his way up in the business – but to the audience he is exposed. We know what he is, we know his deceit. Unlike Travis, however, Lou Bloom doesn’t care. He’s one of the scum – but that suits him just fine.