|First appearance||Taxi Driver|
|Created by||Paul Schrader
|Portrayed by||Robert De Niro|
Travis Bickle is a fictional character and the protagonist of the 1976 film Taxi Driver, portrayed by Robert De Niro. He is widely considered one of the most iconic characters in film history, and De Niro earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the character. He is inspired by Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace on May 15, 1972, and by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Bickle, a military veteran, is a former U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War. Living in New York City, he is a socially inept 26-year-old who was given an honorable discharge in May 1973, and has "not much" education. With few friends, and suffering from severe insomnia and depression, he takes a full-time job as a graveyard shift cab driver to occupy his time, working grueling 12 hour shifts almost 7 days a week. Working late at night in dangerous neighborhoods, his customers tend to include pimps, addicts, and thieves. He is visibly disgusted by them, and begins fantasizing about "cleansing" such "filth" from the streets.
He becomes smitten with a woman, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who works in the local campaign office of presidential candidate Senator Charles Palantine. He often watches Betsy from his cab, and finally enters the office with the pretense of wanting to support the candidate, and asks her out. They meet for coffee, and Betsy finds him odd but intriguing, and agrees to see him again. He takes her to a porn theater he frequents. She is appalled and refuses to see him again.
After Betsy rejects him, Bickle becomes increasingly paranoid and starts acting out his vigilante fantasies. He buys several guns and takes to carrying them secreted about his person — taped to his limbs, for example, or in hidden spring-loaded holsters. He begins an intense physical training regimen which consists of doing 50 pushups and 50 pullups every morning to prepare for war. He famously practices a menacing, tough guy swagger in the mirror to use on whoever angers him. Eventually, he shaves his head into a Mohawk. He attends one of Palantine's speeches, apparently intent on shooting him. However, he draws the attention of secret service agents and flees.
He becomes obsessed with saving Iris (Jodie Foster), a 12-year-old prostitute he has seen on his route. He pays her pimp, Matthew AKA "Sport" (Harvey Keitel), for her time, but is not interested in having sex with her; instead he tries to persuade her to leave prostitution and return home. Iris rebuffs him, only increasing his anger and resolve to take her away from a dangerous life. He confronts Sport and shoots him in the stomach with his S&W Model 36 snub nose and leaves him to die on the street. He then goes on a rampage through a brothel with his concealed weapons, while Iris is servicing a client. Bickle shoots the approaching bouncer's hand off with his .44 Magnum as soon as he walks in, but he in turn is shot in the neck by a dying Sport from behind. Bickle drops his .44 Magnum and guns Sport down with his snub nose (which Bickle kept in his right hand, while the .44 Magnum was in his left hand). Bickle begins to advance only to have the enraged, wounded bouncer behind him trying to attack him while going up the stairs. Iris' client, a mafioso, overhears the previous gunshots and sneaks behind the distracted Bickle and shoots him in the arm. Bickle kills the mafioso and the bouncer, and then turns the gun on himself, but finds that his ammunition is spent. Severely injured, Travis collapses on Iris' couch. When the police arrive, Bickle stares at them and smiles, pointing his finger like a gun at his head.
The newspapers hail Bickle as a hero for rescuing Iris. While in the hospital, he receives a letter from her parents, thanking him profusely for returning their daughter to them (she had been sent home after the police arrived and found out she was a runaway). After recovering, he sees Betsy, who tells Bickle that she read about him in the papers, and when she gets out and asks him how much the cab fare was, he smiles and drives away.
Critical response and analysis
Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, and The Walker make up a series referred to variously as the "Man in a Room" or "Night Worker" movies. Screenwriter Paul Schrader (who directed the other three films) has stated that he considers the central characters of the four films to be one character, who has changed as he has gotten older.
In the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains, Bickle was named the 30th greatest film villain of all time. Empire magazine also ranked him 18th in their "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters" poll.