Film Structure: Part 2


Restricted Narration in Taxi Driver


Most of Scorsese’s slow and intentional camera movements are built on restricted narration, showing solitude and isolation. Thus Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, is dominant in the entire film. The engagement of the camera with Travis can be understood in the opening credits. There are 3 shots in which we can see New York at night, all through the windscreen of Travis’ taxi, followed by 2 close-ups of Travis’ eyes.


The opening shot opens with a shot of a glass office door with the words ‘Dependable Taxi Service’. The camera is stationary, waiting for someone to enter. Whoever does is automatically considered as dominant character. A man enters from right and dominates the whole screen, showing the name ‘Bickle T’, printed on the back of his shirt. The spectator (through the camera) sees Travis entering the office after some seconds waiting for him. Thus it is automatically expected that this is a leading character. Moreover, as Travis enters the office, the camera follows his steps, moves around him and shows his face. Thus Scorsese here is linking the name with the character. This also depicts an ironic situation when linking the name Bickle with the word ‘Dependable’; once we later realise how unstable and unbalanced Travis is.


After Travis had an interview, in which we become aware mostly of his background information, he walks through a garage full of taxis. Although there is nothing new regarding the narration, nevertheless the director, in the exit shots, creates an atmosphere of loneliness. For example, as Travis walks out of the dispatcher garage the camera pans from right to left. The taxis are heading toward the right direction however Travis is walking in the opposite way, even faster than the camera. This indicates the instability of the character and definitely that something isn’t going to be good for sure.


It is important to note that Scorsese in this scene experiments with the camera. While the camera is panning from right to left, and Travis is exiting the garage, looking at the taxis going in the opposite direction of his, he walks off the screen and walks behind the camera. The camera continuous independently and steadily panning in the same direction with the same speed until it again captures Travis at the garage entrance.








It is very unusual in film that an action happens behind the eye of the camera.


The general rule is very similar to that of theatre or Renaissance painting, in which the action happens within a space made up of 3 walls. The fourth wall is the audience. In fact the spectator is occupying an invisible wall in a theatre. The same applies to a film. David Bordwell, in The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production, p. 56, 1985, writes ‘that shots will be filmed and cut together so as to position the spectator always on the same side of the story action.’


Martin Scorsese in this case breaks the rule of the invisible wall. The director allows Travis to go shortly beyond the imaginary wall.