|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 directed by Martin Scorsese, portrayed by Robert De Niro, who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the character.
Bickle, a military veteran, is a former U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War. Living in New York City, he is a paranoid 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, drug addicts, and thieves. He is visibly angered by them, and begins fantasizing about "cleansing" such "filth" from the streets.
Bickle becomes attracted to a woman, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who works in the local campaign office of presidential candidate and United States Senator Charles Palantine. Bickle often spies on 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 strange but charming, and agrees to see him again. He takes her to a porn theater he frequents. She is disgusted and refuses to see him again.
After Betsy rejects him, Bickle becomes increasingly paranoid and starts acting out his 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 a physical training regimen which consists of doing 50 pushups and 50 pullups every morning and practices an intimidating, thuggish presence in the mirror to use on whoever challenges 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 protecting 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 perilous life. He confronts Sport and shoots him in the stomach, leaving 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 begins to advance only to have the wounded bouncer attack him while going up the stairs. Iris' client, a Mafioso, overhears the previous gunshots; he sneaks up 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 he is out of ammo. Severely injured, Bickle 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 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 him that she read about him in the news; when she gets out of the cab and asks him how much the ride costs, 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.
Cultural Influence and Controversies
You Talkin To Me?
The character has often been referenced in popular culture due to his iconic "You Talkin' To Me?" monologue. The scene was listed by IGN as the 4th best moment in film history when counting their top 100. The site states "You talkin' to me?" The phrase has entered the pop-culture lexicon, so familiar it is. As Bickle stands in front of the mirror, clad in an Army jacket, threatening his unseen foes with the gun up his sleeve, Taxi Driver hits a disturbing peak because we know exactly where Bickle is coming from. You talkin' to me?!" The line has been parodied multiple times throughout film history, including by De Niro himself in the film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
John Hinckley Jr
On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate United States President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster, who portrayed Iris in Taxi Driver. Hinckley's inspirations for his assassination attempt were directly linked to Travis Bickle's attempted assassination of Charles Palantine in the film, with Hinckley even fashioning his appearance to resemble Bickle's mowhawk and army jacket appearance. Ironically, Bickle's character was inspired by Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate Presidential candidate George Wallace on May 15, 1972. Upon hearing of Hinckley's assassination attempt, Taxi Driver director Martin Scorsese considered quitting the film industry.
Todd Phillips' 2019 film Joker pays tribute to Bickle and Taxi Driver through the character of Arthur Fleck (portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix). The character's descent into madness and chaos was seen as reminiscent of Bickle, leaving many critics and audiences to distinguish whether the character's arc was an homage to Bickle or rather sampling familiar storylines. The film goes further to pay tribute to the character and film by having Bickle's actor Robert De Niro portraying the character of Murray Franklin, a talk-show host pivotal in the character of Arthur Fleck's descent into madness and transformation into The Joker. De Niro's casting was also a reference to another collaboration between him and Scorcese with their 1983 film The King of Comedy and his character Rupert Pupkin. The film includes a visual reference to Bickle miming shooting himself in the head in a scene in an elevator between Arthur and his neighbour, Sophie (Zazie Beetz). Sophie mentions how much she hates living in the apartment block and mimes shooting her self in the head, which Arthur does as well. The "finger gun" was also referenced in season 1 of FX horror television series American Horror Story in the scene where the police attempt to arrest Tate Langdon after he commits a mass shooting. Tate mimes the finger gun to his head, resulting in the police opening fire, killing him.
Before Watchmen: Rorschach
In the series, as Rorschach escapes the henchmen of a villain named Rawhead, he escapes in a cab driven by a driver who shares his perceptions. The driver bears a striking resemblance to Bickle.
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