By Richard Henry Stoddard
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And unlike Casualties of War (1989) or Born on the Fourth of July (1989), which cast returning American veterans as repentant victims, struggling to make peace with themselves at last, Taxi Driver is at once politically astute and locked in its own overdetermined time warp. It takes aim not at specific targets (an administration or a policy) but at a cycle of madness based in self-involvement. f At first glance, Taxi Driver's reference to the Vietnam War appears slight and neatly classifiable. " 5 I suggest that beyond this, the film examines ideological, emotional, and moral conflicts, concurrent with the broad political situation Ray delineates, specifically by locating the experience of the war-the violence, the frustration, the madness-within an American context.
For most Americans, however, the Vietnam War was a morass of conflicting feelings and ambiguous moral questions. Facing the meaning of the war required sudden shifts of thought and feeling, "agonizing reappraisals," radical restructurings of long-held views. Much like Ransom Stoddard, the character played by Jimmy Stew- Hollywood and Vietnam 27 art in the film, Americans tried, as best they could, to work through questions of personal and national honor, the uses of violence, the myth of America's destiny.
Jane Fonda, too, as we have seen, in many ways contradicts the image that popularly defines her in this discourse. The controversy surrounding her name, image, and activities has served to disguise the quintessential Americanness that is at the core of her personality, public as well as, one supposes, private. Fonda's antiwar activities stemmed from the very same kind of naive, apolitical, and unideological impulses that propelled and supported America's involvement in Southeast Asia in the first place.
Abraham Lincoln: An Horatian Ode by Richard Henry Stoddard