Taxi Driver is an iconic noir film written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese in 1976. It featured Robert De Niro as the main character, named Travis Bickle. The movie focuses on the story of a mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran, who is struggling between his sense of morality and his desire to lash out against the decadence of the society surrounding him, and trying to find a moral center in rescuing a 12-year-old prostitute. The movie was a huge success at the box office and is cited by critics to be one of the greatest films of all time. It explores the deep psychological conflicts of a single displaced person in a society he perceives as rotten. The purpose of this discussion is to provide insight into the portrayal and evolution of the character in the film.
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Characterization and Portrayal of Travis Bickle
Taxi Driver (1976) is a character study type of film. It focuses on the perspective of a single character and how it changes as the story goes on. Travis Bickle begins as an apathetic, broken man who works as a taxi cab driver in order to sustain himself, as he cannot find work anywhere else (Scorsese, 2014). He acts as a passive witness to the scum and villainy that exists around him while making feeble attempts at restoring a semblance of a normal life. He is portrayed as a man with a myriad of flaws and practically no good sides to himself – an empty shell of a person.
Two key figures in his evolution as a character are Betsy – a young and attractive woman who is getting involved in politics, and Iris – a 12-year-old prostitute. Betsy represents beauty, and this beauty attracts Travis, who sees her as something that does not belong in this world of dirt. He attempts to become better in order to impress her. However, as his character is so riddled with flaws, his perception of the woman is obscured by his own faults, which, coupled with mental instability, drives him to commit reckless and even criminal acts, as he attempts to unsuccessfully assassinate a prominent political figure (Scorsese, 2014).
Iris, on the other hand, represents Travis’s desire to stand up for something he believes in. Something good, noble, and worthwhile. Something to die for. He makes it his mission to try to liberate Iris from the shackles of prostitution, giving him a reason to live and to fight. He does free her by slaughtering her pimp and everyone else in the brothel who got in the way before attempting to end his own life as the police arrive to arrest him (Scorsese). In both cases, the character makes a valiant push from the darkness of his surroundings towards purity and decency.
The tragedy of Travis’s character is that his perceived character growth, while present, is still deeply flawed. He confuses his desire for revenge and lashes out against the evils of the city for righteousness. His symbols, which he views as perfect, are deeply flawed as well – underneath her beauty, Betsy is a shrewd and calculative woman, while Iris is far from being an innocent victim of circumstance. The ending of the movie alludes to this conclusion – that even after all he had done, Travis remains close to what he was – a broken man on the streets of a big city who is lying to himself and desperately trying to prove he is alive.
The film is one of the icons of cinematography and a must-see for anyone interested in a deep exploration of a character. Travis’s story ends in failure, as the last pictures on the screen illustrate that deep inside, he is as broken as he was before. What is interesting about this character is not the destination but the journey.
Scorsese, M. (2014). Taxi driver. Web.
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