I understand that Travis’ mission was to affect ‘real change’, and his massacre at the end serves this purpose on a small scale. However, I’m interested to hear your takes on his attempted murder at the political rally. Was this simply his mind snapping, bloodlust, or something else? His only real political stance was his distaste for the city’s hoodlums, none of which were present. How would a murder in this context have served his purpose?
To me, it always striked me as a reaction to his rejection from Cybil Sheppard’s character. I could be wrong but, that’s just me.
I second Ryan Estabrooks, and i also think it was an attempt to start off as a big name killer, as opposed to a small time killer like he became.
I just rewatched the movie, and this is exactly what I was wondering. He obviously intended something by attempting to assassinate Palantine. If we bring Betsy into it, he only even pretended to like Palantine because of her. But he had nothing against Palantine himself. In regards to Ryan’s argument, I guess the question is whether or not the rejection was strong enough motivation for him to kill Palantine. He did say, after all, that Betsy was just like the rest of them.
Personally, I don’t think it would be enough. With the pimp massacre, it’s obvious. He says to Iris that the pimp is the worst kind of person, ‘the scum of the earth.’ Earlier, he says that he wishes a rain would come and wash away all the scum off the streets. So in killing Sport and the other pimps, he’s becoming the ‘rain’ he asked for; a hero, I guess.
I’m confused as to whether or not Palantine’s death would have meant anything at all. Yes, he’d kill a big name figure, but that would just make him an assassin, not a hero: he doesn’t seem to believe Palantine is scum. His entire speech about now finding purpose, about ‘not taking it anymore’ contradicts the attempted assassination. Killing Palantine wouldn’t have done anything about the scum, seeing as he was trying to clean the city.
So why did he want to assassinate him?
Because his “mission” isn’t about becoming a hero or fighting crime. Does he delude himself into thinking that? Sure. But it’s not like the audience should. Seriously, his various rants about crime should come off as downright schizophrenic. It isn’t about doing good. It’s about his own desire for self-actualization and acceptance. “The days go on and on… they don’t end. All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.” When he talk about about washing away all the scum from the streets, he is referencing the fact that his life in the city has left him dehumanized, oppressed, worthless, and above all…alone. In his words, no one understands him. He is “God’s lonely man.”
As was pointed out, Travis doesn’t support Palantine because he actually cares about civic change or responsibility. He does it because he is fixated on that Betsy. “I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They… cannot… touch… her.” So when Betsy rejects him, he attempts to take out what she cares about most: Palantine. To Travis, Betsy’s relationship to Palantine is probably no different than Iris’s relationship to Sport. Not that a whore is the same as a canvasser, they aren’t. It’s just that each female has adopted the values of the figure that represent each lifestyle. Travis is in a precarious balance between both. He doesn’t belong to either.
The ending is far more twisted than you make it out to be. On the surface it looks as if Travis has been redeemed and accepted by society; as evidenced by the letter from Iris’s parents, the newspaper clippings, and Betsy in his cab. Yet, this is artificial. They only make Travis out to be a hero because they have completely misinterpreted his intent. In this sense, nothing has changed; No one understands him. He is still, “God’s lonely man.” Like his encounters with Betsy, or Iris, or even “Easy Andy,” eventually Travis will be rejected by society or realize he doesn’t fit in. When that happens he will go off on another spree…
Travis thinks he has found acceptance – yet, it’s a lie. Despite the press feeding his morbid self-attention; they will never know him. Even at the height of his fame, he is still an outcast. Also, since the “good” people in the story have embraced Travis – a murderer – as their hero, it somewhat ironically supports Travis’s bleak worldview: that society needs to be flushed right down the fucking toilet.
There are two women in his life (to paint with broad strokes). He tries to kill the father figure of one (so that he might replace him?). When he can’t; he goes after the father figure of the other.
Yeah, basically, it’s classic transference. He fails with Betsy, so he targets her “father.” He fails to kill Palantine, so he targets Betsy’s “father.” Meanwhile he gets a lot of bad “father” himself:
The failed assassination attempts clarifies that any positive or redemptive elements of his “heroic” shooting spree are STRICTLY COINCIDENTAL with the mental illness that is driving him to kill, “clean up” the streets.
I just watched the “God’s Lonely Man” featurette on the blu-ray, and it seems like you guys are right. Some film historian (or critic?) actually said “The girl he wants, he can’t have; the girl he doesn’t want, he can have. He tries to kill the father figure of one, fails. Succeeds in killing the father figure of the other, becomes a hero.”
Shocked, I wasn’t saying that he’s an actual hero, I should have been more clear. I know he deludes himself into thinking he’s a hero, and that it’s all part of his insanity. You say that the newspapers and whatnot have misinterpreted him, that’s assuming they’re real? I hope this isn’t too preposterous, but I always thought they were part of his delusion. His insanity made him believe he was being a hero, and that he would be welcomed as such, when in reality he wasn’t. That’s just my take.
Good point, Ben. The irony of the ending of the film depends on the Palantine plot, which can in no way be justified as heroic.
I felt the reason he was originally going to assassinate Palantine is that from his perspective, Palantine was pretending to care about the poor state of things in the city, but it was all a lot of empty words with no intent behind them. In the end I felt he decided that it’d be more useful to go after the problem directly.
My interpretation of the ending is that he was received as a hero, because he was acting on the ‘cowboy’ mythology that represents the secret libidinal urges people have in reaction to crime on television. People cheer on Clint Eastwood and John Wayne when they mow down murderous bandits, and I feel Travis’s shooting spree captured their imaginations in that way. They misunderstand his ‘Dexter’ compulsion as an act of heroic rescue, and at the end Travis understands the irony and hypocrisy.
On the Laserdisc audio commentary, Scorsese acknowledged several critics’ interpretation on the film’s ending being Bickle’s dying dream. However, he admitted that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object implies that he might fall into rage and recklessness in the future, and he is like “a ticking time bomb.”14 Writer Paul Schrader confirms this in his commentary on the 30th anniversary DVD, stating that Travis “is not cured by the movie’s end,” and that, “he’s not going to be a hero next time.”15
“She was cold and distant, just like the rest of them.”
Travis says this line in regard to Betsy, the Palatine campaigner who rejects him. I’ve always thought “the rest of them” referred to women who have ignored Travis previously.
Remember that the box office lady at the cinema also turns down Travis. He doesn’t seem to have much luck with the dames.
What’s weird is Betsy seems to be eyeing Travis in a manner most admiringly during the final scene. People are strange like that—they find the oddest reasons for deifying other people. I find this is especially common with a lot of women and the men they find attractive. Betsy flips out when Travis takes her to see “Language of Love”, yet has no problem stepping into a cab driven by the same Travis who has just slaughtered several people—Travis’ motivation for doing so and the way the newspapers have valorised the act should be irrelevant to Betsy.
If you recall, Travis flips out and strikes a karate pose when confronted at the Palantine campaign headquarters. Then he goes and guns down a bunch of pimps. By THIS stage, Betsy should be asking herself what type of man Travis really is—but she rejected him earlier over his relatively harmless taste in cinema.
I think this says something about our society and women in the modern world—they are generally prudish about sex, but get turned on by men belting and plunking one another just like guys do. Betsy herself is a “walking contradiction”—she must be at least a little mixed-up to be so badly offended by a cheap porno flick; yet attracted to a man with proven stalker tendencies and several kills to his credit.
Ultimate moral to be learned here: if women took chances on outcast men, they could prevent them from snapping and lots of senseless bloodshed could be avoided.
Even if it means putting up with his taste for el cheapo porn flicks.
“What’s weird is Betsy seems to be eyeing Travis in a manner most admiringly during the final scene.”
Yes, Mark, and this seems to be a significant departure from the “Ethan Edwards plot” that Taxi Driver borrowed from The Searchers for the Iris portion of the story. In the original Ethan clearly cannot, metaphorically speaking, come back into the home:
In Taxi Driver, there’s also a framing of the character at the end, though in this case it’s as just eyes in the mirror:
but also there’s some implication that the “door” may still be “open” with Betsy.
“. However, he admitted that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object implies that he might fall into rage and recklessness in the future, and he is like “a ticking time bomb.”14 Writer Paul Schrader confirms this in his commentary on the 30th anniversary DVD, stating that Travis “is not cured by the movie’s end,” and that, “he’s not going to be a hero next time.”
it’s just an urban boogeyman story then isn’t it?
good fun though.
I’m still thinking of a film titled: Assassination Attempt vs. Pimp Massacre. I wonder who might win that conflict. My money’s on Pimp Massacre.
Shocked writes: “Not that a whore is the same as a canvasser…”.
That might bear more fruit after further exploration, especially if you have spent any time around campaign headquarters. In that context, I wonder if the parallels, Betsy/Palantine and Iris/ pimp, have much distance between them.
In his own warped way, Travis cares about Betsy and Iris. He appears to conclude that Palantine doesn’t care about Betsy, and has in some respect “ruined” her, making her “cold and distant.” He surely understands that Iris is in a similar predicament, so he moves to rescue her before she, too, is ruined.
(As viewers, we fully understand Travis’ take on Betsy’s arrangement only after we see what transpires with Iris.)
In other words, if he regards himself as a kind of saviour (or deludes himself toward the same conclusion),
then whatever actions serve his purposes in rescuing these women are not guided by outside considerations.
Therefore the larger consequences of Palantine’s death, or the pimp’s death, would not figure into Travis’ calculations.
It’s all about the rescue mission, perhaps mainly because he’s learned from a devil on his shoulder what ultimately happens to women who go astray; recall Scorcese’s plans for the cheating spouse, so graphically detailed from the back seat of the cab over Travis’ shoulder.
“recall Scorcese’s plans for the cheating spouse, so graphically detailed from the back seat of the cab over Travis’ shoulder.”
That’s actually the best explanation I’ve heard, if we consider that he wanted to ‘save’ them, which is what happened with Iris.
The reason he wanted to kill Palantine was because he was hoping to liberate Betsy, just as he tried to liberate Iris.
I don’t remember it so well, but I thought Travis was trying to become a ‘normal’ citizen by courting Betsy, and when he failed he embraced his role as the outsider. For him, killing Palantine would be the ultimate way to lash out against the society he couldn’t get into. It happens that way. The pimps were a fortunate substitute. I don’t think he was trying to save anybody, even if he thought he was. Just trying to manage himself.
I thought he wanted to kill Palantine because of the conversation they had in his cab. At the time he had no interest in Betsy, he’d been summary judged as a deviant and was furious with her. He told Palantine everything he thought was wrong with the city, and he got a pat talking point response. From his mindset at the time, Palantine was creating the problem by ignoring it.
I’m also not sure Travis ever wanted to conform to the norm. He wanted to be accepted as an equal by it.
Beware of trying to assign a rational motive to a psychopath, but, yeah, he tries to, um, woo, Betsy and, failing that, he turns his anger toward her “father” figure, Palantine. Then when that doesn’t work out, he transfers the his anger and frustration to Iris and her “father,” Sport.
Explanations delivered in this thread:
1) ‘Saving’ women from men who control them.
2) Disillusionment with the men and what they represent to society.
3) Father figures and the control they have over weaker characters.
4) Because he’s a fucking psycho.
Could it be all four?
The first few reasons can only be used to justify a killing… when you’re a fucking psycho.
Beware of trying to assign a rational motive to a psychopath
Travis Bickle is many things, but psychopathic is not one of them. If anything, psychopaths are more rational than other people.
I was using the word in the common dictionary definition sense of the word— "a mentally ill or unstable person; especially : a person affected with antisocial personality disorder "—Bruce.
I don’t think killing the pimps was justified, but it’s certainly more redeemable than if he had killed Palantine. Bickle certainly wasn’t cured at the end of the film, but even if the ending was Bickle’s dying dream, Iris was certainly ‘saved’. Her life probably wasn’t roses afterward but she was found by the police, probably brought back to her parents, and certainly wouldn’t go back to being a prostitute after if only out of terror.
Travis Bickle is many things, but psychopathic is not one of them. If anything, psychopaths are more rational than other people.
You would think lacking emotion would make people more rational, but in reality people who are incapable of experiencing emotion have trouble making even the simplest of decisions such as what color pen they want to write with. Lacking emotion helps you make better strategic decisions to achieve your goal, but it makes your goals and motives completely irrational.
it’s true travis is not a psychopath and would be diagnosed with a schizotypal personality disorder which is quite different
there’s an ebook you can buy for $20 online as a case study describing all this in full, appropriate treatment plan etc for Travis:)
“I don’t think killing the pimps was justified, but it’s certainly more redeemable than if he had killed Palantine.”
Yes, I think that’s a key irony of the film—if he had been able to carry out his original plan, he would have been prosecuted and made infamous, instead he’s made a hero by the media . . . even though his own motivation in either case or pretty much the same.