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Film / Taxi Driver

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"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

One of Martin Scorsese's most famous movies, Taxi Driver (1976) is the story of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an insomniac and depressed New York City cab driver who becomes obsessed with cleansing the city of human "trash" and goes insane.

The film was written by Paul Schrader and inspired by a breakdown he'd experienced in the mid-1970s which he hoped to get out of by "exorcism through art" (his words). Brian De Palma was originally tabbed to direct, but the film's producers decided to go with Scorsese instead after seeing Mean Streets. It's notable for containing both one of De Niro's most iconic roles and Jodie Foster's breakout role, as a child prostitute (she was twelve years old at the time).note 

Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Peter Boyle also appear in the film, and Bernard Herrmann composed the music score (his last).note  De Niro, Foster, and Herrmann all received Academy Award nominations, while the film itself was nominated for Best Picture.

Made on a low budget but with heart and passion, Taxi Driver was shot extensively on location in New York City during the summer of 1975 and remains the defining portrait of The Big Rotten Apple through capturing the pre-Dinkins 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 (rare for its time) made it a defining portrait of an American city. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for several Oscars, and was a box office success, making roughly 15 times its budget back in revenue.

While controversial in its release, the film 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 the whole side-story of Bickle's plot to assassinate a local senator and presidential candidate, a different experience to watch.

See also The King of Comedy, another Scorsese-directed film about a mentally ill loner, now in Black Comedy flavor, and Joker (2019), a movie which is heavily inspired by both films.

Taxi Driver is the Trope Namer for:

Are you troping to me?

  • Accidental Hero: Travis was originally planning to assassinate Palantine, but his plot was foiled by the Secret Service. With his primary target unavailable, he goes off to kill Sport (a pimp) and his gangster associates, rescuing Iris in the process. Had his original plan worked, Travis would be seen as a deranged murderer, instead, he became a local hero.
  • Alone in a Crowd: As Bickle puts it: "Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, and cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man."
  • AM/FM Characterization: Betsy is a fan of Kris Kristofferson. She tells Travis that he reminds her of a lyric from "The Pilgrim – Chapter 33": "Partly truth, partly fiction. A walking contradiction".
  • Animal Motifs: Robert De Niro thought of Travis Bickle as a crab - indirect and tended to shift from side to side.
  • Anti-Hero: Travis Bickle practically invented the modern anti-hero. Travis is a Nominal Hero. The guy's a nut, but hardly a malicious one. 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).
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Wizard's existentialist speech to Travis ends with him essentially saying that Travis should go out and enjoy life to the fullest, since everyone is going to die anyway.
  • Arms Dealer: Travis buys a number of guns from the suitcase of a skeevy street dealer named Easy Andy. After making several purchases, the man runs down a laundry list of other illegal wares, to Bickle's disgust.
  • Asshole Victim: We're not supposed to cheer the carnage, but Travis' victims (pimps and gangsters) do fall under this category.
    • The film's creators have stressed repeatedly over the years that it was purely dumb luck that Travis' victims wound up fitting this trope and that he didn't end up killing someone innocent like Tom or Betsy or Senator Palantine.
  • Author Avatar: Travis for Paul Schrader, though Schrader obviously never went on a shooting spree.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Using a .44 Magnum for self-defense, lampshaded by Easy Andy, who recommends a snubnose .38 instead. True to Andy's warnings, it proves to be pretty useless in the climax. Travis only manages to get off one shot with the .44, and a non-fatal one at that. His other, smaller guns prove to be much more practical.
    Easy Andy: This might be a little too big for practical purposes...
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • The psychopathic passenger played by Martin Scorsese, who even claims to be one. His murderous rants actually end up creeping Travis out.
    "You must think I'm pretty sick, right?" (laughing).
    • To a much lesser extent, Travis qualifies by the end of the movie.
  • Bad Liar: Travis's attempts to get more knowledge about the Secret Service detail protecting Palantine only tips them off that he's a potential lunatic. When Travis tries to give them a fake address, he fumbles and gives a six number zip code instead of a five letter one, and tries to excuse the mistake by saying he mixed it up with his phone number.
  • Badass Bystander: Travis during the convenience store robbery.
  • Basement-Dweller: Of the gun-idolizing, hero-complexing variety.
  • Beard of Evil: Martin Scorsese in his cameo as the passenger.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: You'd better not provoke him.
  • Big Applesauce: A fictional — dark and rotten — version of New York City. Supposedly somewhat of a Truth in Television, at least at the time.
  • Big Bad: Sport, Travis' biggest personal enemy. He's the one who disgusts Travis the most, the one who exploits a child and the one who finally brings Travis' wrath down on him in full.
  • 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 working some of the seedier parts of the city, sees the worst of New York City.
    Travis: 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.
  • 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.)
  • Book Ends: The film opens and ends with Travis monologuing in his taxi about the city.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The timekeeper at the brothel gets one of these.
  • Boring, but Practical: The .38 snubnose revolver that Easy Andy sells to Travis as opposed to the .44 Magnum, which he notes is too big for concealment and everyday use.
  • Broken Pedestal: When Travis first sees and meets Betsy, he has an idealized view of her as a kindred spirit who's above all of the world's shallow banality. When she rejects him and refuses to speak to him, he says that she's turned out to be just like everyone else in the world.
  • Bungled Suicide: Travis tries to shoot himself after killing the three thugs. He fails, as he has run out of bullets. He then attempts Suicide by Cop, also to no avail.
  • Call-Back: Travis runs out of bullets in the final scene, because one of his weapons was previously used to stop a robbery.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Betsy is a fan of Kris Kristofferson...who was in Scorsese's previous film Alice Doesnt Live Here Any More, opposite Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster.
  • Character Development: Zig-zagged. Travis becomes more unhinged and menacing as the movie progresses before finally snapping. In the final scene he is more sociable and it seems his mission benefited him. But the last shot of the movie (and Word Of God) suggest that Travis hasn't developed at all. He isn't cured of his disorder and he will likely snap again.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal example: Travis uses every single weapon he buys.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Travis has a major (read: delusional) case of this.
  • City Noir: Most examples of City Noir in film draw inspiration from this one.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Travis. For all the guns he buys, he runs out of ammo while his most indefatigable opponent, the Old Man, is wrestling with him. He grabs the Mafioso's gun and uses that.
  • Cool Shades:
    • Travis' famous Aviator Ray-Bans.
    • Iris sports a couple of these when Travis takes her out for breakfast.
  • 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 .22 automatic and a .380 Astra Constable, more than he can possibly carry in his hands. He then builds an arm-mounted slide to conceal the .22 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 Mafioso, 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 .22 into his hand and shoots the Mafioso 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 Mafioso'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.
  • Creepy Monotone: The only time Travis really dips out of this is when he rages at Betsy for dumping him and gets aggressive with her friend. The rest of the time, he keeps that same monotone no matter what the context is.
  • Cringe Comedy: Travis taking Betsy to a porno theater on their date, and being genuinely unable to understand why doing so is an incredibly ill-advised idea, can be classified as this.
  • 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)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tom and Betsy. The former is played by Albert Brooks, after all.
  • Death Seeker: Travis, by the end. Indeed, after shooting his final victim, he takes a gun and points it under his chin but it fails to fire, and he tries the other guns and fails, having run out of bullets.
  • 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 (multiple) 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, a character Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life would struggle to eloquently express his inner turmoil, and eventually try and solve his petty and prosaic issues by seeking outlet in fame and respect rather than the "authenticity" described by Continental writers.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Travis Bickle constantly suffers from this. He has a strong inner life but lacks the education and cultural background to give voice to it, and instead uses whatever phrases around him to suit his purpose, often coming across as a "square" (as Iris notes) or as a mix of a "prophet" and "pusher" (as Betsy notes).
    • A key example is the lunch between Travis and Betsy where Travis says, "I gotta get Organi-sized" which Betsy sees as a sappy office joke but Travis takes it as serious wisdom, and in a Brick Joke, eventually puts that poster in his apartment. His general overall seriousness and total lack of a sense of humor and his Sarcasm Failure (in his conversations with Iris, Sport, Wizard and Betsy) are also a key part of his general social failure and his eventual breakdown.
    • The conversation between him and Wizard is the ultimate example where Wizard more or less provides existentialist ideas as the word on the street picked it up in the 70s, and Travis more or less sees that as bullshit and Wizard shrugs and admits he isn't Bertrand Russell and tells him You Need to Get Laid.
  • Deranged Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle is the most famous (and notorious) example in cinema, and provides the trope image.
  • Desaturation: The shooting at the end was desaturated by director Martin Scorsese to turn down the violence.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Travis is absolutely desperate for something to give his life a sense of meaning.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: Sport puts on a record while slow dancing with Iris, with a track playing the principal theme of the soundtrack.
  • 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.
  • Double Tap: In the climactic shoot-out, Travis decides to shoot Sport in the head after killing him, because the first time he shot Sport, he managed to get back up.
  • 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 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 weirded out by the rantings of the sadist-husband client (Scorsese).
    • Likewise as unhinged as he might be, Travis is truly repulsed by Sport and the fact he is prostituting Iris and other younger girls.
    • When the arm dealer offers him some drugs, Travis with a visibly disgusted look on his face claims that he's not interested. He just wanted the guns.
  • Exhausted Eye Bags: Travis develops these as he goes months with little or no sleep, leading Iris to assume he's a junkie and call him a hypocrite for criticizing Sport's habit.
  • Fake Shemp: Jodie Foster was doubled in the more explicit shots by her elder sister.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sport. He is a very stereotypical Seventies pimp and has absolutely no problem with sexually exploiting a very young woman, the only true limit he has being her clients doing "rough stuff" to her (which would screw up her "marketing value" for him, not really doing anything to protect her). The scene where he's telling Travis the Long List of denigrating things Travis is allowed to do to Iris if he's got the money for it has him act as nice as... well... your average character played by Harvey Keitel.
  • Film Noir: In a lot of ways it's a modern Deconstruction of the genre, with a protagonist who pictures himself as a "hardboiled" noir hero. The narration by Travis really drives this point home.
  • 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.
  • Fingore: Travis's only shot with the .44 Magnum during the final shootout blows off three of one guy's fingers.
  • Firing One-Handed: Travis Bickle would die before holding a gun in both hands.
  • Four Is Death: Travis buys four guns from Easy Andy. He also kills a total of four people over the course of the movie (first the burglar at a convenience store, then the three thugs near the end of the movie).
  • Genre Deconstruction: The final shootout is about an unglamorous a depiction of gun violence as you'll ever see.
  • Guns Akimbo: Parodied in one shot where Travis draws his .44 Magnum in his right hand and his snubnose revolver in his left. The barrel of the former is longer than the entirety of the latter.
  • Grin of Rage: Travis is normally The Stoic, but also frequently smiles whenever he's angry or disgusted by someone, especially when he starts to go off the deep end. This gets mixed with Slasher Smile when he goes on a killing spree.
  • Groin Attack: In a rare female example, the nauseating passenger played by Martin Scorsese talks about doing this to his cheating wife.
  • Hand Cannon: The .44 Magnum. The smaller guns turn out to be more useful, however.
  • Homage Shot: The shot of Travis putting a tablet into a glass of water and the overhead angle watching it slowly dissolve is an allusion to a famous scene in Jean-Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her. Likewise the opening sequence of Travis driving with his eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror is a Shout-Out to Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place.
  • Human Traffickers: Sport is a sleazy pimp who profiteers off of child prostitution.
  • Iconic Item: Travis' army jacket and of course the .44 Magnum.
  • Idiot Ball: The bouncer (unarmed and with most of his right hand missing) ineffectually trying to tackle and smack Travis, who just shot him in the hand and is armed to the teeth. Travis even gives him a chance to live by pointing a gun at him as a warning on the steps as though to say "leave me alone and you'll live", but he clearly doesn't get the message.
  • 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.
  • I'll Kill You!: Shouted repeatedly by the bouncer to Travis during the final shootout scene.
  • 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 hairstyle.
  • The Insomniac: Travis. He becomes a night taxi driver because he can't sleep at night.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Mostly averted, as Sport, the bouncer, and Travis each require multiple shots to incapacitate them, and Travis even survives.
  • Job Title: Travis is a taxi driver.
  • Joisey: Travis gives a fake name and address in New Jersey to a Secret Service agent after being promised "forms" to join the Secret Service, since he knows that's not the real reason the agent wants his address.
  • Listing the Forms of Degenerates: Travis Bickle does this a lot during the movie, but the example most famous is:
    "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."
  • Loners Are Freaks: Travis just can't get a grip on relating to people. So he turns himself into a walking arsenal and decides to do some damage/good.
  • Loony Fan: Travis claims to be a fan of Senator Palantine. The very same Senator Palantine he attempted to kill. In Real Life, the very loony John Hinckley Jr. was inspired by this film to attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, as detailed above.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash: The scenes in the campaign headquarters are the only scenes that really take place outside of Travis's sleazy world and play out like workplace comedy. They serve to underline that, contrary to Travis's idealization and projection, Betsy is just a regular person with quirks and flaws. The mood flips again when Travis storms into the office after Betsy rejects him and almost attacks Tom.
  • Murder-Suicide: Travis was planning that, but he didn't have any bullets left.
  • Neon City: The bright neon of Manhattan (including the famous Times Square) is used as a backdrop. It helps make Travis Bickle, who is almost completely disconnected from the world around him, seem even more of a sad loner.
  • 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. Specifically, Travis taking Betsy on a date to a porno film and joining Palantine's campaign in order to stalk him are both things Bremer confessed to in his diaries.
    • Oliver Stone, meanwhile, claims the film to be based on his life after returning from Vietnam and driving a cab in New York.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Subverted at the film's climax. Travis shoots Sport once in the stomach, and assumes that he's dead (as do, in all likelihood, the audience). Minutes later, Sport 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. Indeed, in conversations he stutters, tends to ramble, has moments where he simply blankly stares in the distance while not making eye contact in the middle of conversation, and on occasion smiles at inappropriate times. When conversing with a Secret Service agent the man can tell from Travis's odd questioning (like asking what kinds of guns they use) that he's probably up to no good and tries to get his address. Travis is also so disconnected from pop culture that when he tries to take Betsy out for a date he ends up bringing her to a porn film and has a hard time understanding why she gets upset with him for this. When Senator Palantine takes a ride in Travis's cab, Travis goes on about how much he likes the man but can't even articulate a proper policy proposal he likes from him and instead rants about how much the city and its surroundings disgust him.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: One of Travis's guns is hidden up his sleeve, and drawn using a speed-rig he made himself.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: Travis does try to do the right thing but it never sticks.
    • Travis tries to get help but the only person he talks to is Wizard and he doesn't get the answer he needs to hear, he quits some bad habits (i.e. drinking drugs, and trying exercise) but he does this so he is better prepared for his violent responses to what he sees as injustice.
    • While Travis did save Iris (and the other children) from child prostitution by killing the pimp and anyone who tries to stop him, his methods deeply traumatized her and there was nothing stopping Travis from simply going to the police to report them instead of using vigilante justice.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Robert De Niro worked hard on Travis' midwestern accent, but his real accent can be heard on occasion.
  • Pædo Hunt:
    • Implied, according to screenwriter Paul Schrader and director Scorsese's interpretation of Travis, Travis is attracted to Iris but is too self-righteous and self-loathing to act on it.
    • It's very heavily implied that Sport is a pedophile, and his behavior turns creepily sexual whenever he's alone with Iris.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Travis does this to convince Iris to give it up. She is resistant to the idea.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • Martin Scorsese's psychopathic passenger, who makes crude comments about his wife cheating on him with a black guy and talks about killing her in a fashion too gruesome to describe in this website.
    • Travis himself makes more than a few misogynistic and homophobic remarks when describing his disgust with New York City, and given the film is presented from his point-of-view, that most of the criminals shown in the film are black probably says quite a bit about his views in that department as well. At one point he even describes black people as "spooks", a racial slur. One book about the film notes that Travis gives highly suspicious looks at the black guys in the diner where the cabbies hang out, and that he never speaks to the black cabbie, Charlie T., who's perfectly friendly towards him, even if he teases him ("Bye, killer!").
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Sport tells Travis all the degrading things he can do to Iris, but tells him not to do "the rough stuff" so he won't degrade her value.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Averted in the final shootout.
  • Psychological Projection: When Travis introduces himself to Betsy, he tells her that he felt a connection with her because he could tell that she's Alone in a Crowd and needs a friend. The truth is Travis is projecting his own insecurities on her in a desperate attempt to feel a connection with somebody.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Tom often provides humorous moments from his interactions with Betsy, though his prominence quickly fades after Travis and Betsy's falling out.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "They... can not... touch...... her..."
  • Quick Nip:
    • Travis takes one right around when he purchases his guns.
    • Another shows up right before the first, failed manifestation of his rampage.
  • Rule of Symbolism: In a scene where Travis confides to Wizard that he has "bad thoughts", the scene is shrouded in a dark red light and Travis's face is shrouded in shadows. At the very end of the movie, Travis is illuminated by the same dark red light after getting agitated by something in his rearview mirror, hinting that whatever's welling up inside him will bubble up to the surface once more.
  • Seen It All: Wizard has driven a cab for 17 years, and thus has seen almost everything the city has to offer. The other cabbies, including Travis, go to him for advice on occasion.
  • Semper Fi: Travis was in the Marine Corps. The guy who runs the taxi stand was as well, which is partially why he hires him.
  • Shellshocked Veteran: Travis, possibly.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Travis wanting to rescue Iris was regarded by Schrader and Scorsese to be The Searchers in 1970s New York City. They also gave "Sport" some Indian feathers on his hat to further link the two films.
    • The famous statement about "God's Lonely Man" is a citation of the essay of the same name by author Thomas Wolfe.
    • Similarly his "You talkin' to me?" line is closely paraphrased from Shane. The same line is also used in an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room."
    • 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).
    • Movie billboards are seen for The Eiger Sanction, Dr. No, and possibly The Wind and the Lion (The billboard advertised Sean Connery).
    • 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.note 
    • 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.
  • Shoot the Television: Travis kicks over his TV while watching a soap opera.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Travis is a milder example.
  • Slasher Smile: Travis briefly flashes one during the attempted assassination of Palantine.
  • Solar and Lunar: The film uses the contrast between day and night as a major recurring motif throughout its runtime. Scenes set during the day are filled with everyone putting on facades, pretending to be glamorous and charming to get ahead in the world, while scenes set during the night show New York with its masks off, depicting the population raw and uncensored. Tellingly, Travis' failed assassination attempt on Palatine occurs during a daytime rally, while his successful massacre at the brothel occurs at night, albeit flipping the associations around by depicting an overtly villainous act in the day and a seemingly heroic act at night.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Rough city, smooth jazz.
    • The score itself contains Mood Whiplash, with the main theme alternating between a menacing motif (rocking back and forth between E minor 7 and A major) played on the brass and snare drum, and a romantic melody played on the saxophone backed by strings.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Travis is this successively with two different females. He first fixates on Betsy, and when he has lunch with her sets to work tearing down Dogged Nice Guy Tom. When he's alienated Betsy, he transfers his affections over to Iris.
  • 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.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: After his failed attempt to assassinate Palantine, Travis goes to the hotel where Sport prostitutes Iris and shoots the pimp, his bodyguard, and Iris' client to death, while getting himself shot repeatedly. It looks like Travis is gonna die, but he ends up surviving, becoming a local hero, sending Iris back home while earning her parents' gratitude, and it even seems like he might get another shot at wooing Betsy. Of course, many have interpreted the last scenes as Travis' Dying Dream. And even if they're not, it's still more of a bittersweet ending, as it is implied that Travis hasn't completely gotten over his mental issues.
  • The Taxi: Travis is a taxi driver and there are several scenes of him at work.
  • Title Drop: Betsy spots Travis in his cab in the street and tells Tom "That taxi driver's been staring at us."
  • Tranquil Fury: A lot of repressed passion beneath that quiet, cold surface.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Jodie Foster as a 12-year-old underage prostitute.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The final shootout looks like 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.
    • Travis is a major one for later anti-heroes from similar films. In sharp contrast to the reserved but effortlessly cool characters that would follow, Travis is an off-putting loner lacking in any real charm or social skills and with poor education. Even his attempted friendship and efforts to save Iris, which would normally serve to make his character sympathetic, are compounded by his issues with women, insistence on ignoring that Iris doesn't want his help and the implication that he may be attracted to her despite his disgust at what she does for a living. And unlike later characters like Joe in You Were Never Really Here or The Driver in Drive (2011), Travis is neither a One-Man Army nor incredibly skilled at anything, with his sole outing as a vigilante nearly ending with him dead and the ending makes clear he's just as unstable as ever and will snap again.
  • 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.
  • The Vietnam Vet: Bickle is strongly implied to be a Vietnam vet and claims to have served in the US Marines some time before the film begins.
    • His green jacket with "Bickle, T." emblazoned on the back would certainly back up that claim, as would the charred North Vietnam Army flag in his apartment.
    • Travis has a large scar on his back. Obviously, there are many ways to be injured in civilian life, but a likely interpretation given the rest of his story is that it's due to a combat injury.
    • The possibility that Travis suffers from PTSD also backs up this claim; many war vets come back with major trauma.
    • Travis is also proficient in the use of guns and combat knives and in hand-to-hand combat, although that doesn't necessarily make him a war vet.
    • Confirmed In-Universe. One of the news articles at the ending of the movie states that Travis was a part of a Special forces unit while in service.
  • Vigilante Man: Travis.
  • Wannabe Secret Agent: Near the end of the movie, Travis Bickle lies about being on "secret government business" that he implies is in this vein.
  • 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. Travis also claims to be disgusted by the sleazy sex trade in the city, even though he frequents pornographic theaters.