Travis sits in his cab and reaches into his jacket pocket. The camera pans up the building where Iris works. Inside, under a red light, Iris confides to Matthew that she doesn’t like what she is doing, while Matthew tries to comfort her by telling her he never wanted her to like it in the first place, and that “if you liked what you were doing, you wouldn’t be my woman.” She complains that Matthew is hardly ever around, and he is touched to hear that she misses him. Getting up to put on a record, Matthew tells Iris he depends on her and he’d be lost without her. As slinky jazz music plays on the record player, Matthew holds Iris and dances with her, petting her hair as they sway. The camera zooms in on Iris’s face as they dance, and Matthew tells her, “I only wish every man could know what it’s like to be loved by you.” Matthew is tender and pets her hair and tells her how nice it is to hold her close. Matthew kisses her, as the scene abruptly shifts, punctuated by Travis’s gunshots as he shoots a target at the gun range.
Travis lights lighter fluid in small trays on his kitchen table and spreads the fluid on the bottom of his shoes. He then lights the dead flowers he had sent to Betsy on fire in the kitchen sink, and the camera shows the burning dried petals in close-up. After he has burned the flowers, Travis sharpens his knife, cuts one of the sleeves of his white button down shirt, and writes a note to Iris. The note reads: “Dear Iris, This money should be enough for your trip. By the time you read this I will be dead,” and Travis wraps a stack of $100 bills in the piece of note paper. He puts the note in an envelope, as his voiceover says, “Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.” We suddenly see Palantine walking through throngs of followers holding signs and cheering for him.
At the Palantine rally at Columbus Circle, a line of cops protect the podium, as Tom introduces Senator Palantine. Taking the microphone, Tom begins his speech, and Travis gets out of his cab in a military jacket to watch the proceedings. The camera rests at Travis’s torso, showing his Palantine button, before panning up to his face as he takes a pill, to reveal his new hairdo, a punkish mohawk. As Palantine announces, “No longer will we the people suffer for the few,” to a cheering crowd, and Travis smirks and begins to clap. The frame shows Betsy and Tom listening to Palantine, before shifting to show Travis in the back of the crowd, and then the Secret Service guard with whom Travis spoke at the first rally he attended. Travis walks towards the stage as Palantine descends from the podium into the crowd. Grinning, Travis reaches into his jacket for his gun, but is spotted by the Secret Service member, who orders another guard to chase Travis.
Travis escapes to his apartment, removing his shirt and taking another pill. Ominous music plays, as the scene shifts to Matthew making a deal with a man in a pinstripe suit on the street. The man has come for an appointment with Iris, and we see him leave. At night we see Travis driving his taxi down the street, weaving around cars, and finally parking in Iris’s neighborhood. He gets out of the car and greets Matthew in a friendly manner; Matthew thinks he recognizes him, but cannot place him. When Travis asks Matthew how the pimp business his going, Matthew tells him to get lost, but Travis then asks after Iris. Feigning ignorance and insisting he doesn’t know anyone named Iris, Matthew urges Travis to leave, smoking his cigarette anxiously and telling Travis to leave. Travis doesn’t leave, however, and asks Matthew if he has a gun, which prompts Matthew to put out his cigarette on Travis’s coat before Travis shoots him abruptly in the chest. Matthew falls to the ground groaning, and Travis walks over to Iris’s building, sitting on the stoop momentarily, before going inside.
Upstairs, Travis walks down the dark hallway yet again, before encountering the man he paid for the room earlier. Before the man can say more than “Hey!” Travis shoots him in the hand, blowing off three of his fingers, and splattering blood everywhere. The gunshot reverberates throughout the apartment, and Iris is shown looking up in shock from her appointment with a male visitor in a room nearby. Suddenly a bullet pierces Travis’s neck, and we see that Matthew has ascended the stairs to avenge himself. Travis shoots back at Matthew, delivering the final blow that sends Matthew crashing into the wall behind him. Dropping his gun, Travis grabs his neck wound before shooting off his gun once again and walking down the hall, shooting Matthew’s limp body and then shooting the man in the hall again, who cries out in pain. Grabbing his neck, Travis struggles up the stairs pursued by the man in the hall who yells in anger and distress. As the man threatens to kill Travis, a door opens in the hall, and the man in the pinstripe suit comes up behind Travis holding up a gun and shoots him in the arm.
Travis drops his gun down the stairs and falls, before turning back and shooting the man in the pinstripe suit numerous times with yet a different gun, in the face and chest. The pinstripe man falls backwards through the beaded curtain and into Iris’s room, who screams at the sight of the dead man who now lies at her feet. The man in the hall continues to yell “I’ll kill you!” at Travis and grabs him by the shoulders. As Travis drags the man into Iris’s room, she begs him to stop, as Travis and the man both fall on the ground. Under the dim light of Iris’s candles, the man and Travis struggle until Travis manages to stab the man in the palm. As Travis grabs the gun from the hands of the dead pinstripe-suited man, Iris screams for Travis not to shoot the man, but he immediately shoots him in the face. Sobbing, Iris kneels beside the bed, and as Travis raises his gun to his neck to shoot himself, the gun fails to go off. He grabs another gun, but it is out of bullets, and he lies down on the bed, next to which Iris sits sobbing.
When Travis lies back on the velvet couch, resigned and wounded, dramatic music signifies the entrance of the police, who hold their guns at the ready. Travis stares at them, before raising a bloody hand to his head and pretending to shoot himself three times. He then lies back with his eyes raised to the ceiling, apparently dead, and we see the scene from above, as the camera pans to show the bloody dead bodies surrounding him, and finally a trio of cops staring at the curious scene. The camera then shows the stairs and hallway of the building, now drenched in blood. We see the slouched dead body of Matthew in the hall, and then a crowd of people standing outside chattering and being held back by the authorities. A cop car pulls up to the scene, and as ominous horns and timpani play, the camera pulls away from the action, showing everything in bird’s eye view.
The scene shifts to a wall of headlines, all praising Travis’s act, as a voiceover of Iris’s father reads a letter thanking Travis for his noble act of vigilantism, and wishing him a speedy recovery from a coma in the hospital. One headline reads, “Reputed New York Mafioso Killed in Bizarre Shooting” as Iris’s father continues to extol Travis’s heroic virtues, and report on Iris’s return home and difficult transition into normal life. Another headline reads, “Taxi Driver Hero To Recover” as Iris’s father’s letter concludes with a heartfelt thanks and an invitation to visit them in Pittsburgh.
The scene shifts to show Travis speaking to his group of taxi-driving friends outside the St. Regis, and Wizard tells Travis he has a rider approaching his cab. Getting in the cab impatiently, Travis realizes that the passenger is Betsy, whom he smiles at in the rearview mirror. He tells her that he heard Palantine got the nomination, and that he hopes Palantine wins, as Betsy looks at him warmly in the mirror, before telling him that she read about him in the papers. Deflecting the praise and concern about his act, Travis tells her he is just experiencing a little stiffness, as they continue to make charged eye contact through the rearview mirror. Betsy gets out of the cab at her apartment and asks Travis how much the ride was, but he drives away without charging her. Travis drives through Manhattan as the credits begin.
This final section of the film solidifies Matthew’s role as a reprehensible villain. Creepily kneeling beside Iris, he insists that her role as his “woman” is defined by her non-consent, by her dislike for her work, and the viewer is sickened by his disregard and dehumanization of such a young girl. Where ethical lines were blurrier before, the film now has a clear and objectively evil antagonist in Matthew. His world is hardly “hip” or countercultural, even if he wears his hair long and purports to be “down”; rather Matthew’s world is an abusive den of sin that entraps young girls like Iris and forces them into trusting their abusers. Matthew is soft-spoken and touches Iris gently, but his words are chilling and pure evil, considering Iris is only twelve.
Matthew’s greatest sin is that he strips Iris of her innocence, and as there is no hope of restoring the girl’s innocence, Travis feels he must fight the evils of the prostitution ring with brutal violence. The rescue of Iris provides Travis with the direction and the outlet for his anger and self-righteousness that he has wanted all along. The lost innocence of the young girl infuriates him to such an extent that he is willing to die for her escape, writing her a letter projecting his own death. Where Matthew is gentle but evil, Travis is hard but invested in the greater good. Indeed, Travis sees his vigilantism as a kind of fate, stating, “My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me.” In order to save Iris, Travis knows he will have to employ brutal violence, and he sees this as his fate, a moral act in which he has no choice.
It is here that we see Travis embark on his final physical transformation. At the Palantine rally, Travis is filmed in a tight close-up getting out of his cab and standing in the back of the rally, with only his military-jacket-clad torso in the frame. Dramatically, the camera pans upward to reveal Travis’s haircut, a strip of mohawk down the center of his head. If Travis had started to come unhinged in Part 4, he has truly let go in this final section. Grinning and clapping, but with the threatening air of his intent to assassinate Palantine, Travis is a maniac with a mission, his mohawk finally distinguishing him from the cops he finds so ineffectual. Predicting his own death, and with nothing to lose, Travis drops the clean-cut aesthetic, opting for a dramatic haircut. The mohawk haircut takes its name from an Indian tribe, but was appropriated by various levels of the American military throughout the 20th century, and was occasionally worn during the Vietnam War. True to his contradictory persona, Travis is at once an Indian and a skinhead, a punk and a paratrooper.
For all his bravado, Travis is never a cold-blooded psychopathic killer, and after every act of violence, the viewer sees Travis’s ambivalence and fear at his own capacity for violence. Travis is unable to complete his assassination properly, and hesitates, causing the Secret Service guard to notice his unusual behavior. Then, after he suddenly shoots Matthew outside the whorehouse, Travis nervously shuffles between the cars in the dark, anxiously looking back at the ailing Matthew, before briefly sitting on the stoop of the apartment building to consider what he has done. Travis is capable of great violence, and is often driven to kill, but it is not so simple as just pulling the trigger. Travis’s acts seem to haunt him and give him pause, even if he believes in his own calling as a vigilante. He continues forward always, never stopping on the contemplative stoop for too long, and propels himself into action time and time again.
The end of the movie is an orgy of violence. With nothing else to lose and nothing to live for but his warped belief in his own heroism, Travis initiates a startling and disturbing bloodbath. When he blows off the fingers of the man in the hall, we recall the earlier conversation between Betsy and Tom about lighting a match with only two fingers, and we remember their discussion of organized crime murder rituals. Splattered in blood and with an ice-cold death wish, Travis becomes a deranged mafia of one, concerned only with vengeance and his own peculiar definition of justice. While his ultimate intentions may be understandable—the freeing of a 12 year old girl from a prostitution ring is unambiguously ethical—his methods are chaotic, ruthless, and only seem to have a traumatizing effect on Iris. Travis’s flaws, contradictions and many demons have now caught up to him. The forgotten Vietnam veteran is still fighting to keep the peace, even when no one has asked him to. Travis’s complex ethical logic is on full display here, as he commits an immoral act in order to serve a presumably moral purpose.
The epilogue is incredibly curious, as it leaves the audience to wonder how Travis’s violent acts and unhinged mania could possibly turn him into a national hero. A possible alternative view is that the glory of his violence and his particularly implausible reunion with Betsy are nothing more than a deathbed fantasy, a figment of the assassin’s imagination. Either way, the film ends on a cynical note. Schrader, the screenwriter, attests that the ending is not a dream sequence, and that he wrote it to call attention to the ways the American public and the media can make celebrities of the most violent members of society. Inspired by the placement of Sara Jane Moore—the attempted assassin of Gerald Ford—on the cover of Newsweek, Schrader wanted to depict the contradictions of American values, and paint a curious portrait of a psychotic man valorized for his psychosis.