Urban Spaces, Dreamscapes, Contested Territories
New York, New Hollywood, Trauma: Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver Revisited
Trauma has become a household term and an apparently global condition (cf. Narine) – a fact that always felt somewhat misleading to me and which I have commented on extensively elsewhere.1 To my own surprise, though, I myself have been taken in by this very term that was once used only rarely and limited to catastrophic individual experience: I began reconsidering Scorsese’s Taxi Driver as the focal point of this essay assuming that it has held its firm status in film history as a movie which projects, onto the screen of New Hollywood cinema, the traumatic experience of the US-American engagement in the Vietnam War, in this way superimposing a whole genre of New York films with what Michael Clark calls the “catastrophe of Vietnam” (7). A closer look at how and when the term trauma comes to figure in the reception of the film, however, makes it evident that a more accurate account needs to present Taxi Driver as having been appropriated as ‘trauma discourse’ under the growing impact of 1990s trauma studies and the subsequent proliferation of the term trauma in the media and day-to-day communication – a term that does not figure in early reviews of the film.
Revisiting the film and its reception thirty-five years after the picture’s appearance, I mean to suggest that Scorsese’s Taxi Driver has changed places in cultural memory, “under the influence,” so to speak, of a concept that itself has transformed from a taboo subject, in the aftermath of...
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