• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Remembering Taxi Driver

ByFlorence O'Neill

Oct 26, 2023
Taxi Driver star, Robert De Niro, poses in front of a taxi in character as Travis Bickle.

The following article includes spoilers.

I have never been one for films with gratuitous violence. They don’t speak to me like tender films, such as Past Lives and Lady Bird which deal with experiences of love, passion and growth. However, imagine a film that could combine these themes in ways that you wouldn’t even notice. Imagine a film that seems so quintessentially “film-bro” but means so much more than they think it does. This is Scorsese’s ‘White Album’, his ‘Mona Lisa’, his Taxi Driver.

There is a delicate nature to this film in expressing the isolated forgotten man, contrasted perfectly with the declining nature of the city, filed with violence and drugs. This film is like an onion; there are so many layers and interpretations of its meaning that one could talk about it forever. 

Travis Bickle is lonely. He is an important cog in the system of a capitalist city. He drives people around and gets a brief glimpse into the lives of other New Yorkers but he never really lives, never really experiences, never really sees the world. The title, “Taxi Driver”, suggests that he only sees the world through the window of his yellow car. He takes people where they need to go, but where does he himself need to go? Travis is mentally ill, which is another reason why he cannot see the world as plainly as it is; he isn’t even properly aware of what is happening. 

We learn that Travis has ‘some’ education and was in the Vietnam War. He epitomises how America failed him. What means does he have to escape the life he is stuck in? He can’t move from his pain, and his frustrated masculinity has no relief until the end of the film. Travis is vulnerable and isolated— portrayed delicately throughout the film— until the moment where he can’t control his anger and frustrations towards the city any more. 

He becomes obsessed with the decline of the city and feels as though it is decaying around him, filled with crime and drugs. However, inside this world of bleakness, he sees Betsy, a beautiful and clever woman who is campaigning for Charles Palantine. Travis, when given the opportunity to take her out, chooses to show her a porn theatre. Perhaps without even being aware, he wishes to defile her femininity and innocence: she doesn’t fit into his world, so he tries to make her. Travis, confused as to why Betsy was so disgusted, has a fit of frustration and confronts her at the campaign office where she works.

Travis also encounters Iris, a twelve-year-old prostitute. Her character portrayal is shocking. Iris views herself as being extremely loved and desired by all the people around her, but those that surround her are Johns – other prostitutes – and her pimp. At the end of the film, Travis shoots Iris’s pimp, and her character disappears into the world of the film. The last thing we learn about her is from a thank you letter to which her father sends to Travis; he saved her.

  At the end of the movie, Travis is deemed a vigilante after his ‘cleanse’ of the city. But the ending is ambiguous. The most common interpretation of the film is that Travis dies after his killing spree, and the final scenes of the film are his dying fantasy. If this is the case, maybe Iris wasnt saved, and the letter didnt exist. In his ‘fantasy’ after he wakes up from his coma and seeing Betsy again, he seems like a new man; he is cordial and seemingly lacks the aggravation he used to have. Although he seems a changed man, Scorsese shows him once again looking aggravated at the city in the final scene. Even in this supposed fantasy he finds it impossible to be equable and Scorsese succeeds in depictitng the unrest in mascuinty.. Travis allows himself to be vulnerable for a second, and this was shut down completely in the final scene. Taxi Driver is far more than gratuitous violence. It is a film of masulinity and its flaws; of a city in decline; of a morally complex anti-hero. I can’t help but recommend. 

Taxi Driver” by Fuck Bill Posters is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.