"Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I am God's lonely man."
— Travis Bickle
Do we really need to repeat this movie's most famous line (which enters into several top #100 #10 lists on the subject)?...In case we do. It's the famous "You talkin' to me?" scene. There, happy?One of Martin Scorsese's most famous movies, made in 1976, it's the story of an insomniac and depressed New York City cab driver (Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro) who becomes obsessed with cleansing the city of human "trash" and goes insane.The film was written by Paul Schrader and was inspired by a Heroic BSOD he had gotten into in the mid-70s and which he hoped to get out of by "exorcism through art"(his words). The project was originally going to be directed by Brian De Palma and languished for years until it attracted the attention of Scorsese and Robert De Niro and is notable for being one of De Niro's first massive roles and for Jodie Foster's breakout role, as a child prostitute (she was twelve years old at the time). Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Peter Boyle also appear in the film, and Bernard Herrmann composed the music score (his last). Both De Niro and Foster received Oscar nominations.)Made on a low-budget but with heart and passion, the film was shot extensively on location in New York in the 70s and remains the defining glimpse of The Big Rotten Apple pre-Giuliani era of the city, its shots of Times Square's seedy porn district, the Alphabet City area where the movie ends and the fairly accurate chart of geography of the city(rare for its time) made it a defining portrait of an American city. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for several Oscars and was a success in its time.While controversial in its release, it became positively notorious when John Hinckley Jr. cited it as the source of his obsession with star Jodie Foster and indirect influence on his failed assassination of President Reagan. Knowing this, makes several scenes, including where Bickle appears to be about to shoot Senator Palantine, a different experience to watch.)Not to be confused with Adventures of a Taxi Driver, an Awful British Sex Comedy that came out at about the same time.
Provides Examples Of:
Adorkable: In a kinder environment, Travis would definitely be this. In this universe, his failed attempts at flirting and shy nature just make watching him try to fit in deeply uncomfortable.
Affably Evil: Sport may be a pimp and make his living prostituting young girls but that doesn't mean that he doesn't treat Them respectfully and show Them affection. Best exemplified in his first scene with Travis where he gives a series of vile descriptions about the things Iris would do for him with all the charm of a second-hand car salesman and ends it a large, sincere grin.
The Alcoholic: Travis has shades of this if the flask he's seen taking a swig from before meeting Andy is any indication.
Anti-Hero: Travis Bickle practically invented the modern anti-hero. Travis is a Unscrupulous Hero. The guy's a nut, but hardly a malicious one..
He turns out to be an Accidental Hero since he initially planned to assassinate a Politician. Had he done that he would have been a hated villain, but because he became Vigilante Man he's become a folk hero. There's no difference or change in his mentality and he could just as easily be one or the other.
Asshole Victim: We're not supposed to cheer the carnage but Travis' victims (Robbers and pimps) do fall under this category.
Author Avatar: Travis for Paul Schrader, though Schrader obviously never went on a shooting spree (that we know of anyway).
Big Damn Heroes: Travis fantasizes about being one for months leading up to his eventual rampage. It's one reason people think the ending is entirely in his imagination as he's dying (though Word of God says no).
The Big Rotten Apple: Travis, as a night cab driver sees the worst side of New York. "All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."
The real mid-1970s New York wasn't much better than Travis saw it. An interpretation is that this is an Enforced Trope with Travis having Jade-Colored Glasses, being a racist and a homophobe, and disliking the city's poverty. And its relation to his opposition against its racial and sexual diversity as noted by both Scorsese and Schrader is that he is actually drawn to the city's lower depths because he secretly wants to be part of it.
Black Blood: In order to attain an R rating, Scorsese had to desaturate the shootout scene, making the blood a dull pink rather than bright red. (General consensus is that the muted colors work in the scene's favor.)
Country Mouse: Travis, being from the Midwest is an outsider in the big city and his view of New York is pretty much the rest of the country's view of the city at the time.
Crapsack World: This is the worst New York has looked outside of apocalyptic science fiction. Truth In Movie as the city was in a genuinely bad state at the time of shooting, due to the decline in traditional industries and the fact that Wall Street hadn't yet clawed its way back to being a major financial centre.
Crazy-Prepared: Travis spends much of the movie becoming this — a big part of the film's dramatic interest has to do with what he's actually doing it for. He works out intensively, and buys four guns: a .38 revolver, a .44 Magnum, a .25 automatic and a .380 Walther PPK, more than he can possibly carry in his hands. He then builds an arm-mounted slide to conceal the .25 up his sleeve so it can be delivered right into his hand, and also tapes a knife to his boot. It all pays off in the final shootout; he shoots Sport with the .38, blows half the Old Man's hand off with the .44 Magnum but is then shot in the neck by Sport. Travis takes Sport down with the .38 in his other hand, dropping the Magnum. Holding his left hand over his neck wound, he finishes Sport off with the .38 and also wounds the Old Man with it, and goes upstairs, the Old Man pursuing him. The Detective, who's been in the room with Iris the whole time, comes out and shoots Travis in the arm, making him drop the .38. Travis sinks to the floor, slides the .25 into his hand and shoots the Detective with it, several times. He then goes into the room and the Old Man jumps on him, but Travis uses his boot-mounted knife to skewer the Old Man's other hand, and then borrows the Detective's gun to blow the Old Man's brains out.
Creator Cameo: Scorsese plays a passenger who watches his wife through a window from the street while detailing how he'd like to shoot her.
He also appears in the slow-motion introduction shot of Betsy in the background, sitting on a stoop. Whether or not this is the same character is unclear, but they are dressed differently.
Dark and Troubled Past: Averted. We learn almost nothing of Travis' past and, based on the anniversary card, he keeps in contact with his parents and cares about their opinion to lie to them about his life. It makes the film more interesting as you really wonder what happened to Travis to make him the way he is. (See Vietnam below)
Deconstruction: Of the Vigilante Man. Technically, on his first and only outing as a vigilante, he may or may not have died (though Word of God says no). This is what happens when an ordinary man takes up arms and goes against common thugs. And a physically fit ordinary man who supposedly had military training at that.
The main point is that he initially wanted to assassinate Senator Palantine but couldn't because the Secret Service caught him out. Had he succeeded in that, he would have been a villain. There's no real difference between either action, only in choice of victims that makes one action more palatable than the other. Rich, smarmy politician versus evil child-sex trafficking pimps.
Screenwriter Paul Schrader noted the film was meant as an American exploration of the existentialist hero in European literature, showing that in a tougher, harder and less intellectual landscape, such a figure comes of as a far less eloquent and interesting, and that his problems would be more petty and prosaic.
Discretion Shot: Travis's awkward phone call to Betsy, where the camera pans away from him to look down an empty hallway as though feeling his embarrassment, is an unusual example.
Don't Tell Mama: Travis lies to his parents about what is really going on with him to reassure them.
The Dulcinea Effect: Bickle is a weird anti-hero version. Taking pity on a random prostitute who was in his cab for a little over 30 seconds.
An interpretation is that he is in fact attracted to Iris, but is too ashamed to admit it, even to himself.
Dying Dream: A common theory about the ending, since Travis is let off for brutally murdering multiple people in front of a 12-year old girl, reunites said 12-year-old girl with her parents, gets his brief girlfriend back, and keeps his job with the cab company.Word of God says no, however.
Embarrassing First Name: Iris hates her first name and prefers to be called "Easy." Travis insists upon calling her by her proper name.
Everyone Has Standards: Travis looks pretty wierded out by the rantings of the "jealous-husband" client (Scorsese).
Film Noir: Down to Travis narrating as if he pictures himself as a "hardboiled" noir hero.
Finger Gun: Done a few times by Travis in the seedy porn theatres. Also, after his rampage, Travis tries to shoot himself, but he's out of ammunition. When the police arrives, he places his index finger against his temple like a gun and pretends to shoot himself in the head several times.
Hypocrite: Travis. Arguably. He's not slow to talk to complete strangers about his disgust at the scum and filth on the streets, but he himself is a borderline racist; while he claims to pick up black passengers, he's shown as viewing black characters with extreme suspicion, but with no justification. He also shoots the black stick-up guy in the store without giving him a chance to drop his gun.
Iconic Item: Travis' army jacket and of course the .44 Magnum.
I Just Want to Be Special: Travis desperately wishes he was someone of importance and could be a part of the world Betsy inhabits. It's his wish to escape his existence that leads him to go on his rampage. Best summed up by the movie's tagline on the top of the page.
Important Haircut: Travis has two. For most of the film, he has relatively short hair for the 1970s, slightly untidy but in no way hip. Around about the scene where he starts stalking Palantine, he has it cut shorter to something like a military crew-cut. When he's finally ready to go on the rampage, he gets the famous mohawk. After the final showdown and his convalescence we see him return to his first hair-style.
The Insomniac: Travis. He becomes a night taxi driver because he can't sleep at night.
Madonna-Whore Complex: The film is a drastic Deconstruction of this kind of mentality. Travis puts Betsy on a pedestal and feels she's above him, so he tries to bring her down to his level, by taking her to a porn theatre on a first date.
Likewise with Iris, he wants to be her savior and redeemer and rescue her.
Moral Dissonance: Thanks for shooting up that den of prostitutes, you heroic rogue. Screenwriter Schrader said on DVD commentary that the fact that Bickle was worshipped as a hero was meant to be ironic, and that he would not be a hero when he snapped again (the cymbal crash and the look in his eyes in the rearview mirror at the end implied that he was as unstable as ever.).
Murder-Suicide: Travis was planning that, but he didn't have any bullets left.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Travis, while mostly an Avatar for Paul Schrader, has more than a few similarities with Arthur Bremer who shot and paralyzed Governor George Wallace three years earlier.
Oliver Stone, meanwhile, claims the film to be based on his life after returning from Vietnam and driving a cab in New York. Which raises some rather troubling questions about Stone's past.
No One Could Survive That: Subverted at the film's climax. Travis shoots Iris's pimp once in the stomach, and assumes that he's dead (as do, in all likelihood, the audience). Minutes later, the pimp reappears behind Travis and shoots him, failing to kill Travis but wounding him quite badly.
No Party Given: Senator Palantine, although his comments suggest that he is a Democrat.
No Social Skills: Everyone Travis interacts with seems to sense that there's something off about him.
Nothing Up My Sleeve: One of Travis's guns is hidden up his sleeve, and drawn using a speed-rig he made himself.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Robert De Niro worked hard on Travis' midwestern accent, but his real accent can be heard on occasion.
The famous statement about "God's Lonely Man" is a citation of the essay of the same name by author Thomas Wolfe.
Travis Bickle is named after Mick Travis, Malcolm McDowell's character in Lindsay Anderson's films If... and O Lucky Man (and later Britannia Hospital). Also, in one scene in O Lucky Man, McDowell wears suspenders with no shirt, as DeNiro does in one scene here.
During her coffee-shop date with Travis, Betsy quotes from Kris Kristofferson's song "The Pilgrim, Chapter 33", and Travis later buys her the album on which it appears (The Silver Tongued Devil and I).
Looking closely at one of the newspaper clippings at end of the film mentions Harry Kilmer as President of the Manhattan Cab Company. Harry Kilmer was the name of Robert Mitchum's private detective character in The Yakuza, which was writer Paul Schrader's first screenplay.
While it would be dumb to suggest that the .44 Magnum's inclusion is in itself a reference to Dirty Harry, the reason the gun is so popular and thus is included in the film is due to that movie.
Easy Andy (the gun salesman) mentions that someone would have to be a jackass to carry a Model 29 with an 8 3/4 inch barrel in the street, making it something of a Take That since Harry's Model 29 has an 8 3/4 inch barrel (though it changes to a 6 1/2 inch barrel in some scenes). The sequels have him carry a 6 1/2 inch version, however.
Travis also buys a Walther PPK (knockoff), although he's forced to surrender it.
In the scene where Betsy leaves her office in slow-motion and Martin Scorsese can be glimpsed sitting on the stoop behind her, he's wearing an inside-out Columbia Studios t-shirt. Taxi Driver was a Columbia picture.
Suicide by Cop: Travis seemingly attempts this at the film's climax. When the cops burst in, he puts his hands in his pocket and appears to be about to withdraw a gun. The cops aren't trigger happy enough for this to work however, and Travis instead pulls out an imaginary gun and pretends to shoot himself in the head.
Unbuilt Trope: The final shootout could be interpreted as a deconstruction of every action film shootout ever made: There are no flashy edits or jump cuts, no musical cues, no improbably cool weapons or marksmanship and it barely lasts two minutes. There is nothing, but raw violence and yet, it was made long before many films that used all those techniques.
Unreliable Narrator: The way Travis describes his life is, let's say, somewhat at odds to what we see of his life, especially how he describes it to other people; his diary, on the other hand, is pretty accurate.
Practically everything Travis says or narrates cannot be taken at face value. For example, midway through the film Travis says that 'There will be no more pills, no more bad food, no more destroyers of my body', and yet later in the film we see him eating mayonnaise out of the jar, we see him take pills and then we see him not only drink, but gargle beer.
You Are What You Hate: Screenwriter Paul Schrader and director Scorsese's interpretation is that Travis, for all his hatred of New York's low-life environment, actually likes it and wants to be a part of it but is too full of self-hatred to actually let go. Specifically he hates child-trafficking pimps while he himself fights his attraction to Iris, strongly disapproving when she tries to initiate oral sex on him.