Tuesday, May 27, 2014

'Taxi Driver' predicted Elliot Rodger before Seth Rogen was even born

"God's lonely man": Robert De Niro as cab driver turned vigilante/assassin Travis Bickle.

In case you haven't been following along, it turns out that the blame for Elliot Rodger's misogynistic killing spree in Santa Barbara, CA, can all be laid at the feet of Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow and their movies about schlubby guys scoring with beautiful women. Thanks for sorting that out for us, Ann Hornaday. I trust that the proper authorities, once they read your Washington Post op-ed piece, will put out a warrant for the arrests of Mr. Rogen and Mr. Apatow immediately and that these two men will be in custody soon. As sad as this information is, it's at least good to know that we've gotten to the bottom of this whole thing. And so quickly, too! Ms. Hornaday has certainly earned her Crime Stoppers Badge of Honor this week. How curious, though, that the movies of Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow have not inspired similar massacres in the dozens of other countries around the world where they've been released. It's almost as if Rodger's actions were guided by circumstances, both personal and social, infinitely more powerful than any fictional movie comedy scenario.

Curiously, neither Neighbors nor Knocked Up came immediately to mind as I sifted through the horrifying news updates coming from California and tried to make sense of the twisted, tragically-misguided rhetoric of Rodger's so-called "manifesto." Instead, I was thinking about Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), an unnerving urban fable about a profoundly alienated, deeply unbalanced cab driver, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who becomes a merciless vigilante and a would-be political assassin after he is rejected by a beautiful campaign worker, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), with whom he has become romantically infatuated. Throughout the film, we are made privy to Bickle's warped thought process through his chilling yet strangely poetic voice-over narration. These passages, which supposedly derive from a journal or diary which Bickle is keeping of his activities, are remarkably similar to Elliot Rodger's ravings. In particular, while reading the manifesto, I was reminded of a scene from Taxi Driver in which Travis arrives, unwanted, at Betsy's workplace, and she has him thrown out. Travis' parting words to Betsy are: "You're in a hell, and you're gonna die in a hell like the rest of them!" As if to clarify this vaguely-worded threat, we then hear a strikingly prescient quote from Travis' narration:
"I realize now how much she's just like the others. Cold and distant. And many people are like that. Women for sure. They're like a union."
This line could have come word-for-word from Rodger's manifesto, with its sullen, self-pitying paranoia and horrendous misconceptions about women. And it comes from a movie which was released six years before Seth Rogen was even born. Perhaps Martin Scorsese and his screenwriter, Paul Schrader, were giving us a warning with Taxi Driver, one we utterly failed to heed.

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