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  • Brian Cho

Travis Bickle: The Repercussions of an Anomaly

By Brian Cho

An anomaly. An unexplained constant that simply does not fit in a multi-faceted puzzle we call society. In a traditional sense, those that deem said anomaly irregular seek to eradicate it. Yet, an alternative scenario takes place in Martin Scoresese’s timeless masterpiece Taxi Driver (1976). Travis Bickle, the film’s protagonist, is the anomaly as he is depicted as a mentally ill character that cleans the filth of New York City in the late 60’s, a time of corruption and fraud. As Bickle’s aim is to improve the city he resides in, he may seem akin to a valiant protagonist than an anomaly—yet, his actions throughout the runtime are considerably peculiar and justifiably irregular.

Bickle is a former Vietnam War marine corps veteran who, following his honorable discharge, finds a complete dearth of purpose in his life. He consequently turns to cab driving to fill his monotonous days with a speck of purpose. Like most war veterans, he shows signs of PTSD, detached from society, unsure of his own self; furthermore, he exhibits characteristics of antisocial personality disorder such as his inclinations towards violence and mercilessness when he does so, his frequent desires to exterminate groups of human population shown as a clear reminder of this fact. Another significant component to the film lies in the city of New York in the 60’s, almost a character itself. Scorsese paints a grimy picture of New York with its streets chock full of trash, prostitutes, gangsters, and fiends. Bickle constantly remarks on this, commenting on how he wishes a rain would come one day and “wash all the scum off the streets.”

The narrative of the film is deliberately structured to exhibit Bickle as both a malevolent, unpredictable character and one deserving of redemption. Bickle initially stumbles upon Betsy, an attractive female political campaign aide of mayoral candidate Charles Palentine. With an obsessive desire to have Betsy all to himself, he begins to develop a scheme to assassinate Palentine. While doing so, he encounters a child prostitute named Iris who he feels obligated to help as well. When his plans to murder Palentine goes askew, Bickle turns to help Iris, brutally murdering numerous employers and clients of hers in the process. In spite of his violence, he is praised by the press and New York as a whole from saving a child from the grips of malicious male figures of the sex industry. The final shot of the film shows Bickle driving away in his cab, glancing into his rearview with a feral look that perfectly establishes that he is a textbook psychopath that would likely strike again; yet, his motives may be far more villainous than before.

From all this information, Bickle is established to have more of a duality in his disposition. And with this duality comes both positive and negative repercussions upon the narrative that he has demonstrated. To explore the positive effects, he was able to save Iris, a child, from both emotionally manipulative employers and a life of prostitution. Furthermore, he did partially accomplish his goal of ridding the filth and scum off the streets of New York. Now to explore the negative effects, Bickle did attempt to assassinate a major political figure that would’ve likely resulted in greater crime and anxiety within the city due to it having the potential to destabilize New York’s politics while simultaneously setting a bad precedent for future criminals. He also did murder several men, though they were sexual predators that profited from the abuse of a minor. Bickle additionally showed signs that his inner psychopathy remains within him and that he may likely strike again to release his urges for violence. From this, a simple conclusion can be drawn on anomalies such as Bickle in a given society: while they may prove beneficial in rare occasions, they may be considered as powder kegs that could detonate and cause a series of cascading problems in said society.

Scorsese himself commented on the fact that Bickle would likely commit more crime in the future, and the final shot was indeed established to deliver that point home. Yes, Bickle did prove himself as being worthy of being considered the protagonist of the story by the end. And yes, Taxi Driver does not have any sequels or future adaptations explaining what happened to Bickle. However, his cruelty and aloofness paints him as an anomaly to the society he is engulfed by, whether it be due to his heroism in the midst of the sinful nature of the city or his insanity standing bare in the collective sanity of New York.


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