Taxi Driver is a 1976 American crime/vigilante film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. Set in New York City soon after the end of the Vietnam War, the film stars Robert De Niro and features Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, and Albert Brooks.
The film is regularly cited by critics, film directors, and audiences alike as one of the greatest films of all time. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. The American Film Institute ranked Taxi Driver as the 52nd-greatest American film on its AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) list. In 2012, Sight & Sound named it the 31st-best film ever created on its decadal critics' poll, ranked with The Godfather Part II, and the 5th-greatest film ever on its directors' poll. The film was considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant by the US Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994.
The film's famous ending where Travis looks into his rear view mirror at an unseen object before a shrill noise is heard is deliberately ambiguous and has led to many of the most famous interpretations of a film in cinematic history.
Sabine Haenni, a professor at Cornell University, commented on the film in her article "Geographies of Desire: Postsocial Urban Space and Historical Revision in the Films of Martin Scorsese" pg. 67: "While Taxi Driver chronicles Travis's excessive response to the perceived decline of the city, perhaps more fundamentally, the decline of the city seems to engender the decline of the male hero—Travis's inability to function in individual, collective, and heteronormative terms."
Roger Ebert has written of the film's ending:
"There has been much discussion about the ending, in which we see newspaper clippings about Travis's 'heroism' of saving Iris, and then Betsy gets into his cab and seems to give him admiration instead of her earlier disgust. Is this a fantasy scene? Did Travis survive the shoot-out? Are we experiencing his dying thoughts? Can the sequence be accepted as literally true? ... I am not sure there can be an answer to these questions. The end sequence plays like music, not drama: It completes the story on an emotional, not a literal, level. We end not on carnage but on redemption, which is the goal of so many of Scorsese's characters."
James Berardinelli, in his review of the film, argues against the dream or fantasy interpretation, stating:
"Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader append the perfect conclusion to Taxi Driver. Steeped in irony, the five-minute epilogue underscores the vagaries of fate. The media builds Bickle into a hero, when, had he been a little quicker drawing his gun against Senator Palantine, he would have been reviled as an assassin. As the film closes, the misanthrope has been embraced as the model citizen—someone who takes on pimps, drug dealers, and mobsters to save one little girl."
On the Laserdisc audio commentary, Scorsese acknowledged several critics' interpretation of the film's ending as being Bickle's dying dream. He admits that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object implies that Bickle might fall into rage and recklessness in the future, and he is like "a ticking time bomb." Writer Paul Schrader confirms this in his commentary on the 30th-anniversary DVD, stating that Travis "is not cured by the movie's end," and that "he's not going to be a hero next time." When asked on the website Reddit about the film's ending, Schrader said that it was not to be taken as a dream sequence, but that he envisioned it as returning to the beginning of the film—as if the last frame "could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie started all over again."