The Story (continued)
Taxi Driver (1976)
In a room aglow with incongruous sacramental candles and decorated with wall posters of rock stars, Travis wants to strike up a friendship with Iris instead of having sex. She calls herself "Easy" (the first person with that nickname crossing his path was gun-seller "Easy" Andy). While she prepares to undress, she claims that she doesn't remember the incident in the back of his cab when he first saw her. Travis insists that she keep her blouse on. Unlike Betsy's untouchable sexuality, the young lover Iris helps Travis unbuckle his pants and pull down his zipper. Bewildered by two different polarities of womanhood and alternative sexualities, she is as unreal an abstraction to him as Betsy was.
Travis: Are you really twelve and a half?
Iris: Listen mister, it's your time. Fifteen minutes ain't long. When that cigarette burns out, your time is up. (Iris sits on the edge of the sofa and begins undressing.)
Travis: How old are you? You won't tell me? What's your name?
Travis: That's not any kind of name.
Iris: That's easy to remember.
Travis: Yeah, but what's your real name?
Iris: I don't like my real name.
Travis: (insistent) Now what's your real name?
Travis: Well, what's wrong with that? That's a nice name.
Iris: Huh! That's what you think. (Iris begins to remove her top.)
Travis: No don't do that. Don't do that. Don't you remember me? Remember when you got into a taxi, it was a checkered taxi. You got in and that that guy Matthew came by and he said he wanted to take you away. He pulled you away.
Iris: I don't remember that.
Travis: You don't remember any of that?
Travis: Well that's all right. I'm gonna get you out of here.
Iris: So we'd better make it or Sport will get mad. So how do you want to make it?
Travis: I don't want to make it. Who's Sport?
Iris: Oh that's Matthew. I call him Sport. (She stands up and begins unbuckling the belt on his pants.) You want to make it like this?
Travis: Listen, uh, listen, hey, can I tell you somethin'. But you're the one that came into my cab. You're the one that wanted to get out of here.
Iris: Well, I must have been stoned.
Travis: Why, what do you mean? Do they drug you?
Iris: (reproving) Oh come off it, man.
Travis: (Iris continues to try to unzip his fly.) What are you doin'?
Iris: Don't you want to make it?
Travis: No, I don't want to make it. I want to help you.
Iris: Well, I could help you. (Iris reaches for his pants again, but he pushes her back onto the sofa.)
Travis: Damn, man. Goddamn it. S--t, man. What the hell's the matter with you?
Iris: Mister, you don't have to make it mister.
Travis: Goddamn it. Don't you want to get out of here? Can't you understand why I came here?
Iris: I think I understand, uh. I tried to get into your cab one night and you want to come and take me away. Is that it?
Travis: Yeah, but don't you want to go?
Iris (confidently): I can leave anytime I want to.
Travis: Well then, what about that one night?
Iris: Look, I was stoned. That's why they stopped me. 'Cause when I'm not stoned, I got no place else to go. So they just, uh, protect me from myself.
Travis: Well, I don't know. I don't know. OK, I tried.
Iris: (compassionate) I understand, and it means somethin', really.
Travis: Oh look, can I see you again?
Iris: Ha, ha, that's not hard to do.
Travis: No, I don't mean like that. I mean, you know, regularly. This is nothing for a person to do.
Iris: All right. How about breakfast tomorrow?
Travis: Tomorrow when?
Iris: I get up at about one o'clock.
Treating her like his own child, he attempts to rescue her and persuade her to give up her life of pimping. When she realizes that he is not interested in sex with her, she is touched by his caring and agrees to have breakfast with him the next day. Travis hesitates about the time to see her, because it seems to interfere with his planned assassination schedule, but then agrees. As he leaves, he remembers to introduce himself, and then sweetly bids her goodbye until the next day: "So long, Iris. See you tomorrow. Sweet Iris."
The hotel manager appears from a darkened doorway at the end of the hall. Travis gives the man a $20 bill [the same crumpled $20 bill given him earlier by Sport to keep him quiet?]: "This is yours. Spend it right." He is taunted by the old man and again identified by his boots as a Western cowboy: "Come back any time cowboy." Travis is revolted and disgusted by Iris' life as a runaway prostitute with "no place else to go" and content to work for a macho pimp.
In the next brilliant, memorable scene over breakfast, Travis takes Iris to a coffee shop where she has toast with jelly and sugar on top. [This conversational scene parallels his coffee shop "date" with Betsy, but this time it follows an 'aborted' sexual encounter.] He becomes obsessed with saving the fresh-faced girl from her circumstances and restoring her to her family and school:
Iris: Why do you want me to go back to my parents? I mean they hate me. Why do you think I split in the first place? There ain't nothin' there.
Travis: Yeah, but you can't live like this. It's hell. Girls should live at home.
Iris: (playfully) Didn't you ever hear of women's lib?
Travis: What do you mean 'women's lib'? You sure are a young girl. You should be at home now. You should be dressed up. You should be goin' out with boys. You should be goin' to school. You know, that kind of stuff.
Iris: Oh god, are you square.
Travis: Hey I'm not square. You're the one that's square. You're full of s--t, man. What are you talkin' about? You walk out with those f--kin' creeps and lowlifes and degenerates out on the street and you sell your, sell your little p---y for nothin' man. For some lowlife pimp - stands in a hall. I'm, I'm square? You're the one that's square, man. I don't go screw and f--k with a bunch of killers and junkies the way you do. You call that bein' hip? What world are you from?
Iris: Who's a 'killer'?
Travis: That guy Sport's a killer. That's who's a killer.
Iris: Sport never killed nobody.
Travis: He killed someone.
Iris: He's a Libra.
Travis: He's a what?
Iris: I'm a Libra too. That's why we get along so well.
Travis: Looks like a killer to me.
Iris: I think that, that Cancers make the best lovers, but god, my whole family are air signs.
Travis: He's also a dope shooter.
Befriending her, he again vainly tries to urge her to leave her pimp Sport, revolted by how she is content to corrupt herself and sell her body at such a young age. She tells him that she likes being with Sport and doesn't want salvation. When he tells her that her pimp has no respect for her, calling him "the lowest kind of person in the world...the scum of the earth," she begins to be persuaded to leave her low-life. Then, Travis offers to give her money to go live in a commune in Vermont (to finance her escape from Sport) but he declines to join her:
Iris: So what makes you so high and mighty. Will you tell me that? Didn't you ever try lookin' in your own eyeballs in the mirror? (She removes her green plastic sunglasses.)
Travis: So what are you gonna do about Sport, that ol' bastard?
Travis: When you leave.
Iris: I don't know. I just leave him, I guess.
Travis: You just gonna leave?
Iris: Yeah, they got plenty of other girls.
Travis: Yeah, but you just can't do that. What are you gonna do?
Iris: What do you want me to do? Call the cops?
Travis: What? The cops don't do nothin'. You know that.
Iris: Hey look. Sport never treated me bad. I mean he didn't beat me up or anything like that once.
Travis: But you can't allow him to do the same to other girls. You can't allow him to do that. He is the lowest kind of person in the world. Somebody's got to do something to him. He's the scum of the earth. He's the worst s-s-sucking scum I have ever, ever seen. You know what he told me about you? He called you names. He called you a little piece of chicken.
Iris: He doesn't, he doesn't mean that. I'll move up to one of them communes in Vermont.
Travis: I never seen a commune before, but I don't know, you know, I saw some pictures once in a magazine - didn't look very clean.
Iris: Well why don't you come to the commune with me?
Travis: (tongue-tied) Why not cum, come in a commune with you? Oh no.
Iris: Why not?
Travis: I don't, I don't go to places like that.
Iris: Oh come on, why not?
Travis: No, I don't get along with people like that.
Iris: Are you a Scorpion? [mistakenly]
Iris: That's it. You're a Scorpion. I can tell every time.
Travis: Besides, I gotta stay here.
Iris: Come on, why?
Travis: I got somethin' very important to do.
Iris: Oh, so what's so important?
Travis: Doin' somethin' for the government. Cab thing is just part-time.
Iris: Are you a narc?
Travis: Do I look like a narc?
Iris: Yeah. (laughing)
Travis: I am a narc.
Iris: God, I don't know who's weirder, you or me? Sure you don't want to come with me?
Travis: Well I tell ya what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna give ya the money to go.
Iris: Oh no, look, you don't have to do that.
Travis: No, no. I want you to take it. I don't want ya to take anything from them. And I wanna do it. I don't have anything better to do with my money. I might be goin' away for a while.
Feeling compelled to talk to Sport in the reddish glare of the light, Iris describes her unhappiness to her streetwise pimp. With a velvety smooth manner, Sport casts a spell over her and coaxes her into resuming her life as a young street hooker. He dances with her cradled in his arms while soothing her. He strokes her hair gently, revealing one obscene, red-enameled sharp fingernail as she melts to his attentiveness:
Iris: I don't like what I'm doin,' Sport.
Sport: Oh baby, I never wanted you to like what you're doin'. If you ever liked what you're doing, you wouldn't be my woman.
Iris: You never spend any time with me anymore.
Sport: Why I got to attend to business baby. You miss your man, don't ya? I don't like to be away from you either. You know how I feel about you. I depend on you. I'd be lost without you. Don't you ever forget that - how much I need you. (He puts some slow, jazzy soul music on the stereo) Come to me baby. Let me hold you. When I hold you close to me like this, I feel so good. I only wish every man could know what it's like to be loved by you... God, it's good so close. You know at times like this, I know I'm one lucky man. Touchin' a woman who wants me and needs me. That's the way you and I keeps it together.
At the firing range, rapid-fire shots blast from Travis' .44 Magnum as he practices more to become a crack shot at the target. In another part of his crusading plan to cleanse, save and redeem society, (and to demonstrate his love for Iris), Travis makes more preparations to bring 'rain' upon the city by doing "somethin' very important." In his apartment where he wears a white western-style shirt [foreshadowing the bloody, Western shoot-out], he polishes his boots and burns some of the dried, wilted flowers intended for Betsy. After sharpening his knife, he tapes it to the side of his boot. He counts out $500 (in $100 bills) for Iris, accompanied by a poorly-scrawled, hand-written letter (put in an envelope addressed to Iris Steensman):
This money should be used for your trip. By the time you read this, I will be dead.
His apartment is neater and more orderly - the floor is less cluttered. Travis has determined to act out his neurotic world view and fight evil with violence. He explains his mission ("to do somethin") in voice-over - to pursue Presidential candidate Palantine and commit a grandiose act - an assassination. Instead of holding evil in check, he unleashes incredible brutality from his troubled psyche:
Now I see it clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. I see that now. There never has been any choice for me.
To exorcise his empty, tormented life, and to do something for which he will finally be recognized, he turns to a violent, insanely-destructive solution for his cathartic salvation. Emerging from his Checker cab at torso-level while Palantine speaks to an assembled crowd at Columbus Circle, Travis blends into the audience wearing a "We Are the People" button. (Palantine's gestures with arms outstretched model the statue behind him.) As the camera slowly pans up from his waist-level, it reveals Travis' inappropriately-severe Mohawk Indian haircut (a single strip of hair down the middle of his scalp) - a clear signal that he has finally snapped and adopted a military-style haircut. [The haircut was first used by the 101st Airborne before D-Day activities in WWII.] Travis' clapping sounds solitary when he joins the crowd in applause.
When the rally ends, Travis pushes and works his way through the crowd toward the detested politician Palantine, photographed from an eye-level perspective. Before he can get close enough to kill Palantine, the Secret Service bodyguard he had spoken to earlier spots him. Travis flees, barely eluding the agents' pursuit.
Frustrated because his blood lust hasn't been satisfied, a stripped-to-the-waist Travis downs more pain pills with beer in his apartment. His mattress is rolled up on his bed. His guns are laid out on his table. He goes looking for Iris, driving to the apartment which Sport uses for his prostitution ring. That afternoon before Travis arrives, Sport is approached by a middle-aged white Mafioso (Robert Maroff) who receives a cash payment. Resembling an Indian with his severe haircut [and not a cowboy], Travis greets Sport in a friendly manner and then baits him with continued questions about Iris:
Travis: How's everything in the pimp business? Huh?
Sport: Don't I know you?
Travis: No, do I know you?
Sport: Get out of here. Come on, get lost.
Travis: Do I know you? How's Iris? You know Iris.
Sport: No, I don't know nobody named Iris. Iris. Come on. Get out of here man.
Travis: You don't know anybody by the name of Iris?
Sport: I don't know nobody named Iris.
Sport: Hey - go back to your f--kin' tribe before you get hurt, huh man. Do me a favor, I don't want no trouble huh? OK?
Travis: You got a gun?
Sport: (He throws his lit cigarette at Travis' chest, causing sparks to fly, and then kicks him.) Get the f--k out of here man! Get out of here.
Travis: Suck on this.
In a shocking, cold-blooded act, Travis wreaks vengeance on Iris' abductor - he sticks a gun point-blank into Sport's gut and shoots, wounding him in the stomach. A few moments later, he enters the darkened stairway leading to Iris' apartment where he approaches the manager of the hotel rooms. In another gory scene of incredible orgiastic violence and cold-blooded slaughter, partially filmed in slow-motion, he shoots and blows off part of the manager's right hand. The blast splatters blood and causes echoes throughout the corridors. [Travis' violent act is symbolic of the Vietnam War itself - an outburst of insanity.]
Another gunshot sounds behind Travis - he is wounded on the left side of his neck - and begins to bleed profusely. Travis turns to look behind him and sees Sport, mortally wounded. He quickly guns him down at the end of the corridor. As Travis is trying to finish off the manager on the stairs, he is again shot from behind in the right shoulder by the private cop (one of Sport's Mafioso gangster associates and Iris' customer). Wounded and staggering, Travis kills him by filling his face and body full of bullets, causing him to fall backwards into Iris' room. Still alive, the wounded manager crashes atop Travis and wrestles him to the ground - they thrash around into Iris' apartment where Iris is shrieking and frozen in fear. Travis pulls his combat knife from his boot and impales the manager's left hand. He reaches over and picks up the revolver from the now-dead Mafioso and shoots him point-blank in the cheek - the manager's brains are splattered onto the wall. Iris is distraught by the gory slaughter.
With two different guns, Travis attempts to shoot himself in the neck, but the guns click empty. Exhausted and struggling, he simply collapses onto the red velvet sofa next to a fear-stricken Iris. His head slowly drops back amidst the bloodbath. When the police arrive with guns drawn, Travis is unable to speak. In a gruesome closeup, he helplessly raises a blood-soaked, dripping finger to his head and makes explosive sounds with his mouth as he mimics pulling the trigger three times in a mock-suicide: "Pgghew! Pgghew! Pgghew!" At the end, Travis wishes to sacrifice himself as the ultimate act of fulfillment, cleansing, and purification, but his suicide attempt fails. He slowly loses consciousness from massive blood loss, and his head falls backward. [He certainly seems to die, but is he dead?]
In an overhead tracking shot, the camera slowly pans over the bloody trail of carnage in the room and down the stairs (Iris is crouched and shaking, Travis lies back on the sofa next to two blood-soaked bodies on the floor, three police officers stand at the door with their guns drawn, puddles and splatters of blood cover the hallway corridor, discarded weapons, Sport's body is at the end of the hallway, and police are holding back crowds that have gathered at the doorway). There are flashing lights and curious onlookers assembled on the street outdoors.
To his surprise, society and the newspapers absolve him of his sins and praise him for his bloody sacrifice and vigilante bravery.
[Whether the newspaper accounts and the film's epilogue are either Bickle's dying thoughts, a dying fantasy, or the product of his imagination, are deliberately left obscure. In any event, the final shoot-out 'shocks' Travis back into reality, similar to the effect electro-shock therapy might have on an insane patient.]
The society, almost as sick as Travis himself, idolizes the psycho-pathic assassin with guns drawn for cleaning up the filth and dirtiness of the city in the monumental slaughter. A tracking shot moves from a new portable TV across to the apartment wall where headlines of newspaper clippings are attached. They proclaim his brave, redemptive deeds:
Taxi Driver Battles Gangsters
Reputed New York Mafioso Killed in Bizarre Shooting
Parents Express Shock, Gratitude
Taxi Driver Hero to Recover
Cabbie Released From Hospital
During the slow pan across the wall, an emotional letter of thanks is read, in voice-over (the voice of an uneducated man), by Iris' grateful father. Travis emerges as society's hero for his ultimately cleansing and redemptive act. And in his martyrdom to cleanse the world, he sends a young girl home to her parents - freeing her from her pimp's grasp:
Dear Mr. Bickle:
I can't say how happy Mrs. Steensma and I were to hear that you are well and recuperating. We tried to visit you at the hospital when we were in New York to pick up Iris. But you were still in a coma. There is no way we can repay you for returning our Iris to us. We thought we had lost her, and now our lives are full again. Needless to say, you are something of a hero around this household. I'm sure you want to know about Iris. She's back in school and working hard. The transition has been very hard for her as you can well imagine. But we have taken steps to see she has never cause to run away again. In conclusion, Mrs. Steensma and I would like to again thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to come to New York again, to thank you in person or we surely would. But if you should ever come to Pittsburgh, you would find yourself a most welcome guest in our home.
Our Deepest Thanks
Burt and Ivy Steensma
At the end of the clippings, the hand-written letter is attached to the wall.
In the ironic, closing sequence, Travis is recovered and unpunished. He has been released from his obsessive torment, and is back in his mundane job as a cabbie. He peacefully talks to his cabbie friends (Wizard, Dough Boy, and Charlie T) while waiting for a fare in front of the St. Regis Hotel - a more civilized part of the city. Travis is wearing his standard cabbie clothes - a light-brown jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots. A passenger has entered Travis' cab, the front cab in the waiting line in front of the hotel. It is Betsy.
She is the first to speak after a long silence - she is uneasy, wary, cool, and distant, but knows of his noble deed and is a bit awed by his celebrity and notoriety for cleansing the city of its scum. Travis reveals a quiet smile on his face and watches her in the rear-view mirror. When she arrives at her destination after a basically inconsequential ride, she gets out and Travis declines her fare.
Betsy: Hello, Travis.
Travis: Hello. (Long pause as they exchange looks in the rear-view mirror) I hear Palantine got the nomination.
Betsy: Yeah. It won't be long now. Seventeen days.
Travis: I hope he wins.
Betsy: I read about you in the papers. How are you?
Travis: Oh, it was nothin' really. I got over that. Papers always blow these things up. Just a little stiffness. That's all. (The cab arrives at her destination and she steps out, speaking to him through the open, driver side window.)
Betsy: Travis? How much was it?
Travis: So long...
He drives off into the dark night. The camera tracks backward from Betsy on the sidewalk as the cab pulls away. Travis adjusts the rear-view mirror to look back. [How cleansed and saved is Travis really? How long will it be before the pathological killer turns back to more ritualistic violence and bloody retaliation, confusing murder with sacrifice?]
The credits play over further surrealistic images of New York City at night, from a cabbie's perspective.
The last frame of the picture dedicates the film to Bernard Herrmann, the composer of the musical score - he passed away only a few hours after he finished the film's score, on Christmas Eve 1975.