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Written by Timothy Sexton
“Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man.”
The voiceover narration by the titular protagonist of the film delivers a self-professed insight into his character with just the slightest bit more imagination and poetry than he will demonstrate during his interactions with other characters. Which is only appropriate since Travis truly is deficient in even the most basic of social skills most people take for granted. These words and the others that Travis voices in their narration are not just disembodied observations intended to guide an audience in constant danger of getting lost. They are the words Travis writes into his diary; a narrative device inspired by a similar journal faithfully kept by a real life person named Arthur Bremer. Bremer’s diary would provide much insight and evidence into why he left Gov. George Wallace paralyzed after an assassination attempt. In another movie, these words and others spoken out loud by Bickle would wind up being incorporate into the climax of the plot in an attempt to fully explain why this lonely taxi driver tried or succeeded in killing Sen. Charles Palantine, the film’s Presidential candidate whom Bickle briefly targets for murder.
“I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They... cannot... touch... her.”
The pauses between the final four words signify that Bickle is not just narrating, but writing them down. The her to whom he refers is Betsy, the blonde woman working at Palantine’s campaign office. For anyone else, the characterization of her as an “angel” would be entirely symbolic, but there is desperate literal quality to every word that tumbles forth from Travis, whether in discourse or when being committed to paper. Betsy becomes an angel in a far more than symbolic way; a fallen angel who must be helped back onto the pedestal of innocence. Bickle becomes an avenging angel himself; when his passion for becoming a savior sours in his experience with Betsy, he eventually finds another angel to save in the form of 13 year old prostitute Iris.
“Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”
Travis is way more of a dark knight than Batman. At least in his own eyes. Travis has a worldview that is far too committed to demanding a stark differentiation between good and evil than can efficiently survive in the urban jungle of modern society. Here Travis is referring literally to a rain that literally cleanses the streets…for a while. His desire for a figurative cleansing will demand a more proactive approach, however.
“I think you're a lonely person. I drive by this place a lot and I see you here. I see a lot of people around you. And I see all these phones and all this stuff on your desk. It means nothing. Then when I came inside and I met you, I saw in your eyes and I saw the way you carried yourself that you're not a happy person. And I think you need something. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend.”
Here is a rare example of Travis being as literate in actual one-on-one conversation as he is when writing in his journal. Even with the unusual level of erudition, however, one can still detect that something is little off about him. Well, some can detect that; Betsy, to whom he addresses this insight, seems only vaguely sensitive to an underlying psyche which could prove problematic.
“All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don't believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.”
Travis definitely needs to find a direction into which to put his energies, but his observations on the subject of morbid self-attention prove him to be curiously lacking in self-awareness. In fact, it is the overly morbid self-attention that has made Travis into God’s lonely man and will inexorably draw him toward a means of self-expression that is distinctly at odds with his philosophy of personhood.
“Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.”
Talk about irony! The irony here is that Travis is not anywhere close to seeing things clearly. And this choice that has supposedly been made for him would have to be so because he has yet to demonstrate any reasonable ability to formulate any plan of action with a well-define purpose. Usually concepts like having your choice be made for you means one of two things: trying to pin the blame on religion or significantly increasing the odds of success with an insanity plea. Travis is driven by neither faith nor psychosis. At this point, his frustration has left him grasping for anything even remotely resembling an explanation for the way his life is turning out.
“Look at it this way. A man takes a job, you know? And that job - I mean, like that - That becomes what he is. You know, like - You do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a cabbie for thirteen years. Ten years at night. I still don't own my own cab. You know why? Because I don't want to. That must be what I want. To be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab. You understand? I mean, you become - You get a job, you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn. One guy lives in Sutton Place. You got a lawyer. Another guy's a doctor. Another guy dies. Another guy gets well. People are born, y'know? I envy you, your youth. Go on, get laid, get drunk. Do anything. You got no choice, anyway. I mean, we're all fucked. More or less, ya know.”
Where does a knight go for guidance when faced with unanswered questions before embarking upon a chivalric quest? To a wizard, right? In Bickle’s case, the only wizard around is not a bearded practitioner of magic but a balding fellow cabbie who hangs around dispensing advice to younger cabbies. As you may gather, simply being a taxi driver for some time is not necessarily coincident with acquiring any sort of useful knowledge worth dispensing. Or, perhaps, it is simply that Wizard doesn’t quite know how to express him. Or maybe Travis just doesn’t have the sophistication to receive the transmission of knowledge in any practically useful way. Whatever the reason, Travis leaves Wizard pretty much confident that he is not the fount of wisdom that Travis so desperately needs at this point in his life.
“You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well I'm the only one here.”
The American Film Institute ranked “You talkin’ to me” as the 10th most memorable quote from an American film produced during the first 100 years of the history of movies. Interestingly, it is one of three quotes to land in that list’s top ten that could easily be interpreted as symptoms of the speaker experiencing a severe mental breakdown characterized by very disturbing perceptual dislocations. Travis is not confusing a weather-related fever dream of some weird fantasy land with reality nor is he experiencing the onset of age-related dementia, however. What is very often overlooked about this oft-imitated monologue is how it is yet another demonstration of Bickle’s propensity toward taking things literally. His gun-fueled fantasy of becoming the heroic avenging knight is not 100% pretense. He actually is the only one there. He usually is the only one there and, what’s more, even when he’s not he is rarely in a position where he would need to ask if someone is talking to him. They aren’t. They don’t. They won’t. He is the only one there and he is fated to always be so.
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