Taxi Driver is touted as one of the most iconic movies of Hollywood, and any cinephile would love to catch up with it again and again. Under the direction of the most seasoned director, Martin Scorsese, the movie builds to a bloody climax and concludes with cryptic sequences of events. Interestingly, these events may not have taken place in real life (film) but in the protagonist’s head. We are talking about the protagonist Travis Bickle.
The 1976 film ends with a lonely driver, Travis Bickle, saving an adolescent prostitute by killing her pimps and becoming the hero of New York City, who seemingly fulfilled his destiny. However, there is much more in the movie than this. Travis’s life ends in a figurative hell that he references throughout the events of the film.
So, who is Travis Bickle, and whether he should be loved or hated? Here’s everything to know about this character.
Who is Travis Bickle?
Travis Bickle is a fictional character and an anti-hero protagonist of the movie Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese. The character was created by the film’s screenwriter Paul Schrader. One of the most seasoned heroes of Hollywood, Robert De Niro, brought this character to life, winning the hearts of the audience worldwide and receiving an Oscar nomination for his stand-out performance.
What is the Plot of Taxi Driver?
The story follows Travis Bickle, he is a Vietnam War veteran with significant PTSD whose toxic lifestyle is slowly taking a toll on his mental health. Travis becomes excessively obsessed with a woman who works for a politician, a young hooker, and with getting justice against the cruel world. All of it leads him to change his lifestyle, train for revenge, buy some illegal firearms, and plot to assassinate a politician. But things do not go his way.
Bickle doubles down, assassinating a pimp and his cronies and saving a young hooker. But when the police arrive, Travis begs them to deliver the killing blow.
What Kind of Person Travis is?
On the surface, you would see Travis representing the prototypical loner who has cut all ties from reality. He is a US Marine who also served previously in Vietnam. He struggles to connect with acquaintances such as Wizard (Peter Boyle), a campaign volunteer for presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), and his only romantic interest throughout the movie, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd).
At the time of his first date, Travis upsets Betsy upon taking her to a porno film and painfully shows his naivete. The latter rejects him, after which he foreshadows his fate by telling her, “You are in a hell, and you are gonna die in a hell like the rest of ‘em.”
Back at his home, he trains and attempts to get organized. He has a diary where he keeps journaling his heart out. This time, he writes, ‘Loneliness has followed me my whole life’, and informs Wizard that he is thinking about doing something ‘bad’ after a bizarre encounter with a customer, portrayed by Scorsese, who plans to murder his wife.
However, everything in the movie changes after Travis spots a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster). An anti-hero so far, now Travis has finally found his purpose in life, and he plans to help this girl in any way he can. In his own dialogue, “Suddenly, there is a change. There has never been any choice for me.”
At this time, Travis is experiencing a major existential crisis; he prepares for war.
Has it All Been Travis’s Dream?
A large section of people believes that the anti-hero protagonist suffers a cruel death at the end of the movie. According to them, Travis’s brain fabricates the letter from the young girl’s parents, and his heroism is actually a projection as he is slowly drifting toward his death. Perhaps, heaven is Betsy entering his cab and accepting him for who he can be and not who he is.
According to some movie fans, Travis dies in the final shootout with the gangsters, and in the last few minutes, when he becomes a hero, Iris gives up life on the streets, and Betsy comes back as merely his dying fantasy.
Some groups theorize that the overhead shot of his blood-soaked body actually suggests that Travis is dead. His soul has risen above the world, and the audience is getting the God’s-eye view of things while the credits are rolling. After all the mayhem and murder so caused, it is comforting to think for them that their anti-hero hero is in the morgue and not hailed as what he has never been. According to the fans, the final moments of the movie are just so perfect, and it is exactly the kind of ending any psycho like him might dream up for himself.
The fans’ ideas about Travis do have some context. How about Travis faking his suicide while the cops draw their guns, asking him to die and be punished for his sins? Perhaps, for him, his death was his penance, and the ending is his mind letting him off the hook.
The final moments of the movie are pure perfection for Travis, the psychopath. He gets accolades, he also gets the girl. Travis also gets the chance to turn her down this time because theoretically, he has so many women throwing themselves at him that now women do not matter to him.
Is Travis the Actual Hero of the Film?
Travis Bickle is the perfect example of an anti-hero being a hero throughout the movie.
According to him, society is sick, and his diagnosis cannot be established incorrectly. Through his return to the basic elements of human nature, fight or flight, Travis turns more in tune with the kinds of heroes the media likes.
Unlike Palantine, Travis goes out of his way to protect real people and clean up the mess on the streets. And the media loves him for his attempts. Towards the end, he realizes that heaven is not some other place, but the earth itself, and his twisted sense of morality is appreciated in the media.
It gets him in good with the girl, but at the same time, it also gives him the confidence to go after other fish in the sea. After all, by now, Travis has become famous.
What Can I Learn from the Movie’s Ending?
Taxi Driver’s ending makes you think! You do not just fade out on a random line or experience. You leave these characters at this moment because it is time for you to understand what the movie means to you.
The movie does an outstanding job of taking its audiences along for an unnerving descent into a state of madness. Even after 50 years of the movie’s release, its concept still remains under debate, especially the ending. Travis Bickle is at the wheel for Taxi Driver’s entire disturbing ride. It is clear that he is dangerous and demented, but he also controls a great deal of how he presents the whole narrative on the screen. Certain examples of it include his entry in his diary read through voiceover and the intimate voyeuristic look at his day-to-day existence.
After learning about his psyche, it is only natural for the audience to experience his ending through his detached and delusional lens. Moreover, Scorsese’s death-littered ending portion in a majority of his movies renders an ethereal and outlandish atmosphere, unlike the events that do not quite mesh with what has come before in the movie.
All these elements offer more of a look into the anti-hero’s deranged psyche and flawed self-perception after his death. It also makes the audience aware that this wrap-up is only an extension of the unreliable narration of Travis Bickle.
Reasons that Make Travis Bickle an Anti-Hero You Would Love
Believe it or not, Travis Bickle is the quintessential anti-hero throughout the movie. Robert De Niro has put his heart in his sleeve while portraying the character. Here are the reasons why this character remains one of the most iconic moments of Hollywood.
- Throughout the movie, Travis’s methods have been nothing but questionable. His motivations are comprehensible. He looks around the city and sees its streets infested with crime. He travels and witnesses that underage girls are forced to have sex for money, trash is piling up around the city, and the politicians do not give a damn about the suffering of the common man. According to him, something has to be done in combating the ever-increasing corruption all over the city, and he is not wrong. Travis does everything in his capacity to affect the change he wants to see.
- His isolated life convinces him to dwell on negative thoughts. If Travis had more friends to not judge him, he might not have fallen into the psychological pit that led him to start a quest for vigilante justice. Loneliness has been a major theme of the movie. Travis’s loneliness doesn’t leave him alone even for a bit, leading to irreversible actions.
- At the beginning of the movie, Travis has just returned from serving in a War in Vietnam. He takes the job of a taxi driver because he cannot sleep properly at night. He also suffers from PTSD. When he becomes disillusioned with the crime-infested metropolis he lives in, the reason he decides to take up arms and kill the criminals responsible for disturbing the social order of the city is that it was everything he was taught to do while he was serving as a US Marine.
- You will realize that the anti-hero doesn’t live in the real world, but in his own head, letting his deceitful delusions get the better of him. It is how he spends the whole movie, slowly losing his grip on reality. The audience also sees his almost comically disastrous relationship with Betsy, taking her to a porno theater on the first date. All these instances clearly narrate that Travis has zero social skills.
- The final moments of the movie seem to suggest a descent into hell as Travis drops off Betsy and drives away. He looks into a rearview mirror and then does an alarming double take like his happy ending has been perturbed by a greeting from the devil. It is merely one reading of the ambiguous ending of the movie. But Travis’s descent into hell seems pretty overt. The whole film depicts the story of him succumbing to his inner demons.