Some time ago I noticed the AFI put Travis as one of the greatest villains ever, I couldn’t believe it, tome, Travis isn’t a villain, but he isn’t a hero either, he’s just a man wanting to get noticed, and whose view of life is so torn apart by war, that he becomes socially inept, so he is just a lonely man motivated by the selfish need of being accepted by the people he criticizes because they are either too perverted or too distanced form each other, and of course, from him.
I agree. The whole point with Travis, all the power in his character, comes from the fact that he is neither. He is merely an outsider. He occupies a space between heroic action and sheer malevolence/bitterness. The original screenplay evidenced him as a hardcore porn collector, with a serious anger towards women, an aspect toned down in the final cut.
So no, not a hero, not a villain. These are reductive polarities. He’s an outsider. The AFI couldn’t think it’s way out of a wet paper bag.
I’m writing a critical notebook on the theory/archetype of the outsider right now. I’ll post some bits and pieces on Travis Bickle soon.
Travis suffers and his “mission” at the end is catharsis, a release. He’s looking back in the mirror- nothing has changed. His loneliness is his pathology, his need to save Iris is a little more than focusing his mind away from his terrifying emptiness, which he embraces through his pathology of eating crap food, going to porno cinemas, making a hash of the date he’s on with Betsy and, even worse, trying to get Betsy to embrace his loneliness too. Understandably, Travis is hurt, but he can’t see the normality of just going on a date. He even makes grand judgements to Betsy at the coffee shop. He’s unable to stop the pain he feels because of the trauma of his past, post Vietnam. The taxi is a yellow coffin. He’s suffering. But he’s also dead inside. The nearest he gets to being a hero is that he’s a loner, an outsider. If anything, he’s an anti-hero. He’s also not bitter; he’s pathetic and sad and deserves our pity. His aborted date with Betsy is little more than a self fufilling prophecy, where he thinks that she would be interested in his sad little life. She’s rejects him in the cinema, he rejects her at the end, refusing to charge her for the fare. He remains a sufferer, not an unhinged beast.
“He’s also not bitter; he’s pathetic and sad and deserves our pity.”
Travis the outsider recognizes that he is not free (he is shell-shocked and now occupies, as you say, a yellow coffin— which is a great description incidentally). An individual who is an Outsider begins to kick and writhe on recognition that they are not free. This defines them as twice-born, and distinct from the ordinary. You can no longer take part in society once you have recognized that the ‘reality’ of that society is a social construction. There is pain in this recognition, constant gnawing psychic pain that will not let you rest. So the Outsider gravitates to becoming a non-Outsider again, to be purged.
But how? –because Travis has declared that the ordinary once-born socially normalized human being is not free (and even further than that— he sees them as sick, very sick), then what does he want?
First consider –what characterizes the bondage of the ordinary human?
As Travis sees it, they are enslaved to an unreality, a lie unto themselves.
–so he wants a new condition of being, characterized by a ‘true’ perception of reality, which must include
> knowledge of the depths of human nature (symbolized by the streets and the many voices in the back seat of the cab, and the Porno theater)
> acceptance of human beings’ utter nothingness (his first mission, to assassinate a man whose politics are lies, which he cannot complete)
> glory/the Universe’s magnificent indifference. (his second mission, to save a young girl from a life of prostitution, a nihilistic afterthought)
Travis can only escape his triviality by challenging his own fundamental indifference to everyday life.
There is nothing pitiful in that, unless you are a once-born insider, swaddled in the complacency of a society that will not bear witness to itself.
Travis is a symbol of a universal human condition— alienation.
Yep, I can understand what you’re saying, but he’s bitter when rejected by Betsy, but subsequent attempts to ask her out again are conveyed in a pathetic hoplessness- especially when the camera pans down the empty hallway. He’s pissed off with Betsy’s co-worker and wants to kick the shit out of him, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t raise his voice anywhere during the film. He’s always desperate. He talks to Iris in desperate tones “you should be in school”. His robotic march of death at the end is devoid of emotion- he’s expressing his true force, every muscle must be tight. It’s all about the mission. Bitter people don’t have the energy to do what he’s doing. He’s lonely and suffering passively. The killing of pimps and dealers is an agressive sense of purpose, the only one he’s had since he got back from Nam. He must be depressed, because he has no fear of working long hours, driving his coffin through black ghettos, begging to get hurt. He hates black people- that’s for sure. But NY was fairly diverse even in 1975/76, so he had time to come to terms with migration. He probably had black squad members fighting with him. He can’t expect to pick up women in a porno cinema, either by taking them or chatting them up whilst they’re working there. He doesn’t have any skills to jump back for a minute before he pathalogically heads further into the abyss. Whist he maintains his outsider status, he’s also revelling in it, happy to be that loner and for the viewer to empathise him, if only because he can’t see how unhappy he is.
and he wanted to and expects to die at the end. The media label him a hero because he’s diametrically rid NY of some bad anti-social dudes, but the media don’t see how unstable he is, so he’s happy to have the attention. But wait, he looks back in the mirror, and it’s back to the same old misery, if untreated, will cause his death by his own hand, not by the guns of the sleaze merchants of Manhattan.
I think Travis is a man driven mad by the repression of aggression in society. He is extremely sexually frustrated and turns this into violence. In the end he end up enacting a cowboys and indians style shootout (the mohawk!!!) and is completely psychopathic, and what is worse is that society adores him for it.
hmmmm…. OK we’ll have to agree to disagree. I see what you are both saying, but I think it’s too easy.
Andrew —Once he survives his suicidal mission, I don’t believe he would choose death by his own hand. I think those last moments: they are an acceptance of his existence. He has proved to himself that his condition (insignificance) is universal, and he has successfully transcended it (he is no longer trivial).
There is a kind of uneasy peace in this for him, at bare minimum a truce.
Mark —the mowhawk is a symbol of many different things. In some cultures (Native American), it is considered a spiritual gesture, marking an individual as spiritual warrior, one who walks with one foot in both worlds. Just thought I’d throw that out there. Scorsese’s no idiot, and nor is Paul Schrader. They both knew the significance of the imagery.
But he expected to die, which is why he wrote the letter to Iris. I don’t take the idea that society adores him- they would only be doing that on the level of the fact that he got rid of cliched “scumbags”. As an audience we’ve been following Travis from his perspective for the whole time, so we know that what he did isn’t something to be championed. As an Idea of transcendence, this must be a very extreme form of it. He nearly dies after rescuing Iris and fully expects to, but doesn’t. He manages to reject Betsy, but to what end? He’s not happy, despite managing a smirk. He looks in the mirror, is alarmed, the mirror is blurred, which must be a visual representation of Travis’ warped mind. The last images are of scummy 1970s New York, and he’s back in his yellow coffin, wandering the streets, waiting to die again. It’s a hopeless moment. He’s accepted his loneliness, and he will die again again because of it because he has no connection to society. He couldn’t even connect with his cabby colleagues. He can’t live with Iris or her family… It was a one off moment. He got clarity, but only for a moment. He’s still trivial and he’s dead inside.
Regarding the mowhawk- this is just part of his whole ritual. He’s been burning his arm to enhance his muscles, he’s doing pull ups, press ups. But it makes him stand out like a sore thumb. He could have been killed or arrested when he tries to kill Palantine, but, unrealistically manages to evade arrest. Travis means journeyman, and his cab is a metaphor for his mental journey into suicide and transcendence into another world, where he doesn’t have to feel, so acutely, the pain of rejection and loneliness. The only acceptance he feels are the positive media opinions and the letter from Iris’ parents, who unrealistically, say they can’t come to NY because they’re too poor. Well, if Travis wanted to, on his large salary, could surely head up to Philly for a welcome. A welcome that would be more accepting given that it wouldn’t be in a hospital ward, with Travis in a coma. But he’s not going to take up the offer. He’ll die sooner or later, but for moment, he feels that he’s made an accomplishment, even though it’s in the most extreme form of mass homicide. Did it have to be so extreme, no? But it makes for a classic piece of 70s cinema.
Just to clarify the mohawk: In Vietnam soldiers on suicide missions or missions with high risk factors would often shave their heads to warn people from approaching them, basically a sign that “they were in the zone” so to speak. It’s in Schrader’s book.
Which book of Schrader’s?
Travis is both a hero and a villain. In a way, he is everyman not quite heroic, he is not quite villainous. He is extreme in both, but that maybe due to his past. Travis attempts to murder the president, and is not able to pull the murder off. However, he is able to pull off the murder of the pimp, and his cronies. He was the only person who could save Judy Foster’s character, due to his not caring about his own personal safety. He was reaching out to her to save her since she was the only person who really reached out to him.
In the end, Travis redeems himself by risking or giving his life to try and save Jody Foster’s character. I think that the underlying message in the movie is “redemption”. Travis has to find redemption after attempting to murder the president. One extreme requires another extreme, think karma.
He is both. Yep ^^. At first I thought he was a villain when I saw the movie, but then the parents wrote him to thank him, so yeah, the lines were meant to be blurred.
This topic could go only in the direction of the individual making the decision.
All I have to say is that we needed Travis to get really pissed off at a girl working for the Bush Administration………..
nonesense. Travis is neither an hero nor a villain. He’s a figure, a face in the crowd, his cinematic face of violence and ruthlessness, his particular way to the lonely and the bald. Travis though he’s filling the screen is a gap made man and flesh. How could a concept be hero or a villain. I wonder.
travis falls borderline between both categories…he’s neither…
when i first saw taxi driver, i thought he was the epitome of the anithero.
when i saw the movie again 15 years later, i just thought he was a total nutjob.
LOL Sonja, you’re probably right.
He’s a hero. While watching the film, I didn’t consider for a second that he was the villain in all of it. He’s just an innocent man who wanted to see the trash on the streets get cleaned up.
Are explosives useful mining tools, or murder weapons? Well, you folks can sit around on a box and argue the point. I stay the hell away from their use as either.
I prefer Harry Tuttle, scab Heating Engineer.
Not hero, nor anti-hero, nor villain, but lonely, damaged, neglected, war-wounded psychotic. What Bickle sees in those mirrors is what is never made visible or literal on the screen: his Vietnam. TAXI DRIVER is the dark, dark side of COMING HOME, and of the two, the superior vision by a long shot. With its ending — Bickle, still alone amongst us — the film holds up a mirror to us all … And it is one that deserves watching again, and again.
Taxi Driver is “beyond good and evil” in the best sense. It’s very reflective of New York at the time when it was made. Whatever saved your ass was good. Bickle’s biggest problem is the loneliness of the metropolis, he can’t love, or he can’t find it. Whereas Scorses makes a point of showing that there is some true affection and tenderness between Iris and her pimp. It’s the ambiguity that makes it a fascinating film. It was also one of the first films to show how killing turns people into stars — really not a new thing, it goes back to the outlaw days of the wild west.
Travis is a lost soul who ends up a hero. I do not consider him a villain at all.
Travis is what nearly any guy in their early twenties can become (military training excepted, of course) if they are angry enough. Not a villain. Bickle dodges his impluse to gain notoriety through assassination by using the skills he learned in the service, and his own drive borne out of loneliness and despair, to make the world slightly better. Hero.
i can’t believe you guys think he’s a hero. or even innocent.
he tried to assassinate a politician. he purposefully kills a guy trying to “prevent” a hold up, like he was just begging for an excuse to blow somebody’s brains out. then he goes on a murder rampage which has very little to do with “saving” the prostitute he likes. and finally he tries to kill himself, because he obviously feels guilty or at least bad about all the carnage he’s caused, which means deep down he knows he’s no good.
and he’s an innocent hero how?
Nope, not innocent, but a hero, however little, sure.