Rhinestone Butterflies

“…Reddened to the temples but dared not move or speak: it was as if her words had been some rare butterfly that the least motion might drive off on startled wings, but that might gather a flock if it were left undisturbed.”

Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence

 
 

Worth butterfly gown, 1898 (Met Collection)

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A Memorable Scene Over Breakfast

Still from Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

 
 

Iris (Jodie Foster) is here seen with the Graal of orange juice (previously discussed). Butterflies are symbolic of the soul, both being the Greek word psyche–and not “mind control,” as conspiracy theorists would have it. Sugar, spice, and everything nice are at the capstone of the Food Pyramid.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) succinctly labels Iris’ state in analogous terms, “You can’t live like this. It’s hell.” … The infernal nature of Iris’ situation becomes still more evident in a five-scene sequence documenting her world. First, Sport (Harvey Keitel) describes to Travis all of the perverse sexual acts a customer can perform with Iris…. After a scene between Travis and Iris in a coffee shop, we return to Iris’ room. Sport has metamorphosed into the demon who seduces pubescent girls for his sexual gratification and for financial gain. Lest we doubt the hellish subtext, Martin Scorsese shoots the scene with a conspicuous red lighting, as Sport entrances this child with his embrace and swaying dance.

The hero figuratively descends into an infernal realm in order to save a wayward feminine character (who is not even aware of the diabolic threat facing her), and the hero exposes evil and attempts to rescue the woman. The harrowing of hell, salvation offered to a prostitute, and a vengeful wrath directed against immorality suggest a hagiographic tone … Scorsese explicitly labels him “a would-be saint, a Saint Paul” … (Andrew J Swensen, The anguish of God’s Lonely Men).

In this brilliant, memorable scene over breakfast, Travis takes Iris to a coffee shop where she has toast with jelly and sugar on top. [This conversational scene parallels his coffee shop “date” with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) , but this time it follows an ‘aborted’ sexual encounter.] He becomes obsessed with saving the fresh-faced girl from her circumstances and restoring her to her family and school:

Iris: Why do you want me to go back to my parents? I mean they hate me. Why do you think I split in the first place? There ain’t nothin’ there.
Travis: Yeah, but you can’t live like this. It’s hell. Girls should live at home.
Iris: (playfully) Didn’t you ever hear of women’s lib?
Travis: What do you mean ‘women’s lib’? You sure are a young girl. You should be at home now. You should be dressed up. You should be goin’ out with boys. You should be goin’ to school. You know, that kind of stuff.
Iris: Oh god, are you square.
Travis: Hey I’m not square. You’re the one that’s square. You’re full of s–t, man. What are you talkin’ about? You walk out with those f–kin’ creeps and lowlifes and degenerates out on the street and you sell your, sell your little p—y for nothin’ man. For some lowlife pimp – stands in a hall. I’m, I’m square? You’re the one that’s square, man. I don’t go screw and f–k with a bunch of killers and junkies the way you do. You call that bein’ hip? What world are you from?
Iris: Who’s a ‘killer’?
Travis: That guy Sport’s a killer. That’s who’s a killer.
Iris: Sport never killed nobody.
Travis: He killed someone.
Iris: He’s a Libra.
Travis: He’s a what?
Iris: I’m a Libra too. That’s why we get along so well.
Travis: Looks like a killer to me.
Iris: I think that, that Cancers make the best lovers, but god, my whole family are air signs.
Travis: He’s also a dope shooter.