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Film

How Paul Schrader wrote Martin Scorsese film 'Taxi Driver' as self-therapy

@Russellisation

Winning Martin Scorsese a Palme d’Or in 1976 as well as several Oscar nominations, Taxi Driver helped to elevate the profile of the director before he would go on to dominate the industry from the 1980s through to the ‘90s. With Robert De Niro in the lead, the film itself is an uncompromising psychoanalysis of a nighttime taxi driver in New York whose urge for violence tips his reality over the edge. 

Arguably, however, Martin Scorsese’s film is merely Paul Schrader’s vision brought to life, with the screenwriter drawing inspiration for his compelling tale from sources like Arthur Bremer’s diaries to the Alfred Hitchcock film like The Wrong Man. Schrader also helped to write the lead character of Travis Bickle through the author’s own direct experience of disillusionment in his youth. 

As Paul Schrader reveals in an interview with The American Film Institute, he saw the project as a method of self-therapy, noting: “Taxi Driver was my first script and I wrote that as self-therapy”. Continuing, the screenwriter explained, “I was in a dark place, drinking and driving, I didn’t have a place to live, I had a gun in the car and I had a pain in my stomach…I hadn’t spoken to anybody in weeks, I had just been drifting through the city with this anger, here in town in Los Angeles”. 

Explaining the inspiration behind the taxicab and its tormented driver, Schrader elaborates further, adding: “The idea of this taxi cab came to me, this yellow metal coffin floating through the sewer of the city with this boy trapped inside who can’t get out who looks like he’s in a crowd but he’s desperately alone. ‘That’s what I am’ I’m the kid in that cab and I wrote that story as self-therapy”. 

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“I figured, if I could write about him, I don’t have to become him and it worked,” he continued. “As I wrote about him he became more and more detached from me. So I wrote it purely as self-therapy and it’s very strange to say that but it did work”.

A film long-admired by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor once stated that the film was the greatest independent film ever made” in an interview with Charlie Rose. Speaking on a roundtable with the presenter and Martin Scorsese, the actor stated: “The one that really moved me the most was Taxi Driver, I remember watching it at 15 years old and being transfixed with Travis Bickle because I was locked into this character and I felt such incredible empathy toward him, I understood him, I understood his loneliness and then he deceived me”. 

Continuing, DiCaprio explained, “At the point he deceived me I said ‘who is this guy I am watching, who is this person’ and I was identifying with him and I was with him on this journey, and all of a sudden ’this is not the person that I thought he was’. To me, it’s really the greatest independent film ever made”.

Take a look at the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s iconic film below.