Whiplash and Taxi Driver- A Study of Loneliness and Isolation

After recently re-watching Whiplash (2014) there appeared to be similarities with Taxi Driver (1976). Both had similar fast and sporadic editing styles that linked with the characters state of mind. Both showed a lonely character, who seeks to change the world, has a hatred for others, seek companionship and fails. Through there lenses of hatred they both become so discounted from the world. Although both are clearly flawed characters they ultimately succeed in the end.

Both characters Travis Bickle (Taxi driver) and Andrew Neiman (Whiplash) seek to change the world. Travis motivations are less clear however for Andrew it appears to be a lust for greatness. Andrew essentially explains this during the dinner scene with his family. He is clearly frustrated when his cousin’s achievements are equated to his.

Andrew: It’s Division III. It’s Carlton Football, it’s not even Division II. It’s Division III.

Uncle Frank: You got any friends, Andy?

Andrew: No.

Uncle Frank: Oh, why’s that?

Andrew: I don’t know, I just never really saw the use.

Uncle Frank: Well, who are you going to play with otherwise? Lennon and McCartney, they were school buddies, am I right?

Andrew: Charlie Parker didn’t know anybody ’til Jo Jones threw a cymbal at his head.

Uncle Frank: So that’s your idea of success, huh?

Andrew: I think being the greatest musician of the 20th century is anybody’s idea of success.

Jim: Dying broke and drunk and full of heroin at the age of 34 is not exactly my idea of success.

Andrew: I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.

Uncle Frank: Ah, but your friends will remember you, that’s the point.

Andrew: None of us were friends with Charlie Parker. *That’s* the point.

Uncle Frank: Travis and Dustin? They have plenty of friends and plenty of purpose.

Andrew: I’m sure they’ll make great school board presidents someday.

Dustin: Oh, that’s what this is all about? You think you’re better than us?

Andrew: You catch on quick. Are you in Model UN?

Travis: I got a reply for you, Andrew. You think Carleton football’s a joke? Come play with us.

Andrew: Four words you will never hear from the NFL.

This clearly shows that Andrew values success over social interaction as he has no “use” for friends. The film constantly has other students socialising in the fore and background as Andrew appears isolated. Hearing snips of there conversations they sound like much more well rounded individuals. While when Andrew speaks it is almost always about music. This links very well with the camera works in Taxi Driver as an embodiment of Travis gaze. As we constantly see people enjoying the company of others in the streets of New York; something Travis sees no value in.

Fletcher even identifies this in a manipulative way when stating “You are a worthless, friendless, faggot-lipped little piece of shit”. After telling Andrew he will be playing after the break, he approaches him and appears to make a connection. Andrew looks happy as he might have found a person with the same appreciation of music that he has; and expected but did not get from his fellow students. However Fletcher gets Andrew to open up just to have ammo to use against him in front of the other students.  Fletcher begins in the class by complimenting and further building Andrews’s confidence. Before the infamous “Not quite my tempo” “Rushing or Dragging” scene. If you look at the main drummers face (see below) during this scene almost every time fletcher stops him he looks confused as if Andrew did nothing wrong. Before nodding in confirmation to what Fletcher says; is this fear of Fletcher or just bowing to higher knowledge. This insinuates that it is possible that Andrew is doing nothing wrong and that Fletcher is just toying with him to attempt to push him further.

Through both characters loneliness and Isolation, a hatred of “others” grows inside them. For both characters this is a spiralling down fall. The more they hate the lonelier they become and the lonelier they come the more they hate. Travis gets a night job as he can not sleep, likely due to his isolation. “Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” Without anyone to speak to or keep him in check he gets some bad ideas in my head”.

It is unclear whether Andrews’s true passion is for greatness or for music. He seems angered by others regardless. Displayed through the dinner scene mentioned previously. We see the other drummer from his previous class attempting to be Friendly when fletcher brings him in. Andrew seems disgusted by him, barely even acknowledging him; to Andrew he is just an obstacle in his path. He even isolates himself from his only true friend; his father. Ignoring his calls as he can no longer even connect with his own father. As he sits his bare student apartment; with only pictures of his idols on the walls. Most students have a mix of this and memories on there walls, photos of friends. However Andrew has no time for friends and memories only dreams.

Both characters seek a way out of there loneliness through female companionship. Both ultimately fail as there isolation has made them so discounted from the real world. Both also have an initial connection over loneliness this can be seen in taxi driver here:

Travis Bickle: I’ll tell you why. I think you’re a lonely person. I drive by this place a lot and I see you here. I see a lot of people around you. And I see all these phones and all this stuff on your desk. It means nothing. Then when I came inside and I met you, I saw in your eyes and I saw the way you carried yourself that you’re not a happy person. And I think you need something. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend.

Betsy: Are you gonna be my friend?

Travis Bickle: Yeah.

They have a first date that although a bit bumpy is overall positive. However this does not last long as Travis takes her to see one of the porn films he enjoys; shortly before they break up. He is so discounted from society that he has no idea how to function inside of it. This brings up the question is Travis the same, better or worse than the people he hates?

This initial connection over loneliness and end over disconnect is also seen through Andrew and Nicole relationship. Asking Nicole out goes quite well and similar to Travis he has a bumpy first date. Andrew starts out by awkwardly talking about the music that is on. She moves the conversation on and says “When ever I see you your eyes are all ways glued to the floor”. Like Travis he is so discounted he can not even follow basic social traits. She feels awkward after this and tries to invite him in for banter about her big chin. He complements her however and she almost looks disappointed. This leads onto further awkwardness around why they chose there schools. Andrew chose his school as it was the best music school in the country while Nicole chose hers because she got in. However after all of this they still make a connection over feeling like outsiders. Both admitting to having no friends; shortly before we see Andrews’s first human contact as there feet touch.

We then only see one text from Nicole before this scene:

Andrew: I’m just gonna lay it out there. This is why I don’t think we should be together. And I’ve thought about it a lot and this is what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna keep pursuing what I’m pursuing. And because I’m doing that, it’s gonna take up more and more of my time. And I’m not gonna be able to spend as much time with you. And when I do spend time with you, I’m gonna be thinking about drumming. And I’m gonna be thinking about jazz music, my charts, all that. And because of that, you’re gonna start to resent me. And you’re gonna tell me to ease up on the drumming, spend more time with you because you’re not feeling important. And I’m not gonna be able to do that. And really, I’m gonna start to resent you for even asking me to stop drumming. And we’re just gonna start to hate each other. And it’s gonna get very… It’s gonna be ugly. And so for those reasons, I’d rather just, you know, break it off clean… because I wanna be great.

Nicole: And you’re not?

Andrew: I wanna be one of the greats.

Nicole: And I would stop you from doing that?

Andrew: Yeah.

Nicole: You know I would stop you from doing that. You know, for a fact?

Andrew: Yes.

Nicole: And I’d barely see you anyway?

Andrew: Yeah.

Nicole: And when I do see you, you’d treat me like shit because I’m just some girl who doesn’t know what she wants. And you have a path, and you’re gonna be great, and I’m going to be forgotten, and therefore you won’t be able to give me the time of day because you have bigger things to pursue?

Andrew: That’s exactly my point.

Nicole: What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re right, we should not be dating.

Just like Travis in this second meet up he shows his true colours and loses the one true connection he has. She is clearly very upset and the story from her point of view is tragic. She meets someone and makes a connection after feeling alone in a new place. Then he drops this on her; he would seem like a complete sociopath. She may have found his drive inspiring or loved his passion for music but we will never know as his disconnect from the real world drove her away. He could have tried speaking to her as we do not even see the two make contact between the first interaction and this one.

I found the connection between these two films interesting. Although thematically very different the concept of loneliness and isolation is present and almost mirrored in both. The focus of this article was more on whiplash however as a lot has already been said about Taxi Driver and isolation. While the only thing I could find on whiplash was how isolation is displayed through the cinematography from reddit user Minsc_and_Boo_. I defiantly feel there is enough connection to say that Chazelle took inspiration from Taxi Driver to create Whiplash.

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