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November 18, 2018 - Welcome Guest!


Reel Psychology

Intro: Art and psychology are intrinsically linked. The best art illuminates (or attempts to) the human condition, which is, after all, at the core of psychological investigation. This linkage is perhaps best evidenced by looking at popular cinema. While film does not always offer the most insightful perspective on human psyche, it is an effective gauge of the public mindset, if for no other reason than its uncommon hold on the culture's collective imagination. For good or bad, cinema (and television) has far surpassed the popularity of all other narrative art forms. One can convincingly argue that this is partially due to the ease with which most cinema can be digested, when compared with, say, a novel. However, much of film's popularity can certainly be attributed to its overwhelming raw power. Film is a visceral medium, or to paraphrase Canadian director David Croneberg, "Film has teeth." Movies are potentially an effective instrument by which we can examine our modern psychological landscape, both personal and social, because more than any other medium, it enables us to experience life from another person's vantage point, to walk in their shoes, as it were. Queendom's Reel Psychology series will highlight some of the films that most effectively (or perhaps ineffectively) demonstrate a psychological bent.

Editor's note: The articles comprising this series are written in a decidedly informal, personalized format. In other words, they are opinions and express only the views of the writer. If you have a problem with the views expressed, please, feel free to express yours by dropping us a line at newsletter@queendom.com.


Taxi Driver

Released 1976. American drama directed by Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver is perhaps my most watched film. I stopped keeping track after the twelfth viewing, which occurred over ten years ago. Arguably, it is the most successful attempt at portraying the essence of someone's psyche on film. This feat is doubly impressive when considering that the individual portrayed is inarticulate, for the most part isolated, and perhaps descending into madness. Yet by skillfully utilizing occasional voice-overs and aided by a remarkably expressively inexpressive performance by Robert De Niro (for my money, his best), the film realistically captures the main character's painfully lonely existence, not by resorting to amateur, knee-jerk psychological explanations (often favored by less talented directors, or even supremely talented ones … see the end of Hitchcock's Psycho) but rather by successfully conveying the feeling of living in another person's skin.

The story revolves around Travis Bickle, (De Niro) an alienated young ex-marine who spends his days and nights driving a cab. In his off hours, Travis visits local porno theatres, paradoxically mesmerized and repulsed by the base carnal imagery offered. Did we say alienated? Travis lives in near isolation, excluding the mundane, repetitive interactions offered by his fellow cabbies and an occasional exchange of pleasantries with local shopkeepers.

Despite his limited social network and lack of social graces, Travis manages (with surprising charm) to convince an elusive young beauty (played by Cybill Shepherd) whom he has been eyeing (stalking?) to go on a date with him. The date soon turns sour, however, and Travis’ subsequent attempt to make amends results in painful rejection. We feel that this was his last attempt to make a meaningful, healthy human connection and indeed it is with this rejection that his already tenuous hold on reality begins to completely unravel. His frustrated lust and longing are channeled into a dangerous obsession with saving a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) and the bizarre attempted assassination of a prominent local political candidate (for whom the Cybil Shepherd character volunteered). When the assassination is thwarted, Travis' frustration explodes in a climactic orgy of violence (yes, dear readers, the sexual repression allusion is intentional here. When the De Niro character brandishes a pistol and admonishes his victim to "suck on this" just what do you thing the point is, huh?).

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