• Jon Reeves

Did Travis Bickle in the film 'Taxi Driver' really do anything wrong?


If someone who had never seen Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese's 1976 classic film ‘Taxi driver’ was shown a picture of him in the penultimate scene with his homemade Mohican hairdo and bloodied hand forming the shape of a gun pointing at his own head, then they would be forgiven for thinking that Travis was a bit of a fruit bat. Which of course, he was. But what did he really do wrong?

Taxi Driver has always been a top 5 five film for me ever since I first saw it at the age of 13 in 1984 when I sneaked downstairs after my parents had gone to bed and inserted my grainy VHS copy into their only recently purchased and extremely clunky video player - the 'remote control' had 4 buttons on it and was connected to the box by a cable.

At the time, and for many years afterwards, it was a film that I didn't like the end of, and would more often than not switch it off before it got there. Another film that fitted that description, and still does to this day, but for very different reasons, was ‘Star Wars - A New Hope’ with that friggin’ award ceremony and all those cheesy looks exchanged between human and droid alike. No need for it. The only reason I eventually forgave George Lucas for it was because he clearly didn't know if the film was going to be successful or not, and therefore produce so many sequels, prequels and whatever the other ones are called. But i'm still not watching it.

Anyway, I always thought, why try and make Travis out to be the hero, when we the viewer could have just been left feeling a bit queasy and suitably disturbed as the camera panned away from the weeping Jody Foster, the cops looking on from the doorway, the bloke with his fingers shot off hunched over the sofa, Harvey Keitel riddled with bullets blocking the downstairs doorway, and of course, Travis with his finger cocked and ready to shoot at his own temple. That would have been cool, I thought - hence why I would switch it off at that point.

But as I got older, and watched the film many times, I started to wonder if Travis really did deserve to be left as the apparent villain. Especially after such a sterling and ultimately successful effort at improving Jody Foster's quality of life. Its not like he was trying to save her so he could just replace Harvey as her pimp. He wanted her to better herself, which, of course, the letters that he later received from her parents during the final scene that I used to avoid, confirmed that she was well on her way to doing.

Throughout the film Travis is seen progressively losing it, sitting on his own in his flat trying to get some kip before he started his nightshift. Eventually it all got a bit much for him and he bought himself some pretty powerful artillery, with the intention of then using it to dish out some retribution to the, as he described it 'Open sewer of a city' that he lived in.

Pretty much everyone that he came into contact with during the film was a complete dick, including the taxi passenger character played my Martin Scorsese himself. Those who seemed to enjoy Travis’s company, such as the bloke he worked with at the taxi firm, who ended up becoming Raymond’s dad in Everybody loves Raymond, didn’t seem to have a problem with him at all. Far from it. In fact, during that final scene, and what with all the press coverage of that night at the brothel, they saw him as the hero that he quite rightly deserved to be.

So what did he really do wrong? The only thing I can come up with is taking Cybil Shepherd on a date to a porn cinema. But even then, during that final scene, she hunts him down and gets a lift in his cab whilst giving him somewhat provocative looks from the back seat.

Personally, I think he was the perfect, if somewhat disturbed product of his surroundings, gentleman.

I don't know, maybe i'm wrong?

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