Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver Summary and Analysis of Part 3: Travis Takes Matters into His Own Hands


Wizard, Doughboy, Charlie T., and another man sit around the table at the diner from before, as Wizard tells the story of a midget who rode in his cab. Doughboy confides that he thinks midgets are funny, and Wizard talks about two “fags” wearing rhinestone t-shirts he picked up, as we see a shot of Travis coming into the diner and going up to the counter, looking upset. Wizard explains that, while he doesn’t have a problem with two consenting homosexuals, he doesn’t want anyone “busting heads” in his cab, and Doughboy tells him that in California, when two “fags” split up, one of them has to pay the other alimony, which leaves the men in a moment of comic awe and silence. Travis approaches the table with a cup of coffee and baked goods, as the fourth man tells a story about a cop chase. Charlie T. requests five dollars that Travis owes him, and Travis eyes his cash before handing it over with a suspicious look on his face. Wizard leaves, but not before Travis stops him and asks to talk. Getting up from the table to follow Wizard, Travis looks back at Charlie T. suspiciously.

Outside, Travis watches other black men with a sideways, suspicious glare, under the red light of an overhead sign. He watches a group of young black boys taunt a prostitute, before beginning to talk to Wizard. Travis confides that Betsy turned him down and that it has left him distraught, and that he wants to “go out and really do something.” Looking for guidance, Travis confides that he has “some bad ideas” moving around in his head. Wizard tries to comfort him, by curiously explaining that when a man has a job, it becomes his whole identity, and that the world is a chaotic place. He urges Travis to go out and get laid or get drunk—“we’re all fucked, more or less,” he tells Travis—but his words do little to comfort Travis. Wizard confesses that he doesn’t know much, and that he thinks Travis is going to be fine, before shaking his hand and driving away.

Travis watches Palantine interviewed on television, and pours maple syrup on top of a sugary concoction. Palantine insists that he wants the people to have the power, and that the “people” are rising to the “demands” that he has made on them. Travis chews, intently watching Palantine as he says, “The people are beginning to rule.” We then see Travis driving past Palantine’s headquarters, where a sign announces Palantine’s arrival in four days. Travis spies Betsy’s desk through the window, before picking up a passenger.

Later we see Travis pulling up to an apartment to drop off a passenger. As he drives away, he accidentally runs into the child prostitute that he picked up earlier in the film. She exclaims before staring at him through the windshield and being ushered away by an older girl with sunglasses and a cigarette. She looks back at Travis, and he drives up alongside them slowly. He watches a black man running down the sidewalk, screaming angrily, and the prostitute keeps looking back at Travis, even though her companion urges her not to. The two girls proposition two young men, and seeing this, Travis angrily speeds away. In voiceover, Travis narrates: “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,” as we see Travis’s view of various pedestrians.

Travis sits at his kitchen table writing in his journal, narrating the fact that the indistinguishability of his days has been interrupted by a sudden change. We see Travis on a street corner, taking a swig from a beer can, before Doughboy pulls up with his friend, Easy Andy, a gun dealer. Travis gets in the backseat with Andy, and they discuss Travis’s purchase of a gun. The scene shifts to Travis in Easy Andy’s apartment, asking if he has a .44 magnum—the kind of gun that the cuckolded husband told Travis he would shoot his wife with. Easy Andy tells him that it’s an “expensive weapon,” but Travis tells him he has the money, and purchases the gun. Andy models the gun and Travis holds it himself, as Easy Andy tells Travis he could sell the gun to a “jungle bunny in Harlem for 500 bucks.” Andy then recommends a .38 snub-nose revolver, a smaller gun. Putting down the .44 magnum, Travis picks up the smaller gun and points it at the windows. Travis points the .38 down at the traffic on the highway below them, as Andy extols the virtues of the .38. He then sells Travis on a colt .25 automatic, and then a 380 Walther. After trying out each one, Travis purchases all of them, and Andy throws in a holster for the large gun, before trying to sell Travis some drugs, which Travis refuses judgmentally.

The scene abruptly shifts to reveal a shirtless Travis doing clapping push ups on his kitchen floor. We then see him lifting weights and doing pull-ups in a door frame, as we hear him in voiceover stating that he has to get in better shape and take care of his body. We see him squeezing a fist over an open flame in the sink, insisting that “every muscle must be tight” and saying that he will no longer take any pills or harm his body with bad food. We then see Travis shooting a target at a gun range with his various pistols. As the scene shifts to Travis in the audience of a pornographic movie, we see him pointing his fingers at the screen, and covering his face with his fingers.

In the following scene, a shirtless Travis points the .44 magnum at a poster of Senator Palantine, as he states in voiceover that he is ready for an act of great force. Putting the gun back in its holster, Travis stares at himself in the mirror, before picking up two other guns and posing with them. He then take apart a drawer from his dresser, and using found material, constructs a makeshift gun holder that attaches to his arm. He tapes up one of his boots, where he hides a knife, and we see him at a work table brandishing and crafting his homemade weapons.

The scene shifts to show Betsy getting ready for a Palantine rally. Tom questions the expertise of a sound engineer setting up a microphone for Palantine, and calls Betsy over to talk to him. Travis walks through the crowds gathering for the rally, and looks suspiciously at a Secret Serviceman in dark aviators, before walking up alongside him and speaking to him briefly. Travis tells the guard that he saw some suspicious people somewhere else, and then asks him if it’s “hard to get to be in the Secret Service.” When the Secret Serviceman asks him why he asks, Travis tells him he thinks he would be good at it, and that he was in the marine corps, and is good with crowds. Travis asks him more and more questions, and the officer finally offers to send Travis all the information on how to apply. Travis gives the Secret Serviceman false information, thanks the officer, tells him to be careful, and walks away into a crowd of people rushing towards Senator Palantine’s car.


Travis’s fears, prejudices, and paranoias from the beginning of the film are now growing more acute. His suspicion of black people having been stoked by the man who threatened to kill his wife for sleeping with a black man, Travis now looks at Charlie T. with a flinching suspicion. Indeed Travis meets all the black characters that he encounters with suspicion. Part of his delusion is not only rooted in his own lack of self-awareness, but his racist belief that black people are at the root of the world’s ills. His face bears a permanent weariness mixed with fear, his eyes glazed over from fatigue and his face gaunt and pale. He blames the problems of the world on others, rather than take responsibility for his own feelings of hurt and rejection.

Wizard acts as a foil for Travis’s tortured demeanor in this part of the film, when he attempts to give Travis advice, but can only come up with hackneyed and somewhat nihilistic perspectives. He urges Travis to get drunk or get laid, to take his mind off the futility of existence. Travis, by contrast, searches for meaning, for a purpose, for a way to feel like he has a stake in his own life. When Wizard insists that he drives a cab, because “that must be” what he wants, Travis confides that he needs to “go out and really do something.” The “something” remains vague, however. It seems unlikely that the “something” is a desire for positive change. Rather, it is a violent impulse, the accumulation of the “bad thoughts” running through his head. Where Wizard is innocuous and harmless, a tremor of danger and recklessness boils just below the surface for Travis Bickle.

Ironically enough, it is the man for whom Betsy is working—Palantine—that pushes Travis to rise up and take the law into his own hands. While he said he believed in Palantine’s platform in order to align himself with Betsy earlier, he knew very little about what Palantine actually stood for. Now, rejected by Betsy, Travis identifies with Palantine’s mantra that the people must rise up and rule themselves. While Palantine intends this as a call to democratic politics—to ordinary people coming together to rule themselves collectively—Travis interprets this in a "personal" way, as a call to him alone to "rise" up: ironically, against Palantine himself, who, for Travis, comes to stand in for the corrupt world. The viewer sees Travis’s face in close-up as he watches the interview, absorbing it all. Palantine’s “power to the people” urgings give Travis his inspiration to start filtering his fear, paranoia, and disaffection into action.

When Travis purchases guns from Easy Andy, the viewer is reminded of his thirst for violence, and his history as a veteran. Andy details the historical uses of some of the pistols, some of which were used in WWII, and we remember that not only is Travis Bickle discouraged by the grime of New York and his ineffectual dating etiquette, but he is still searching for a war to fight, having been discharged from Vietnam. What better way to feel like one has control over society and the power to do justice than to join the army or buy a gun. Even though Travis’s work as a taxi driver has brought him outside the watchful eye of Uncle Sam, he sees his mission as aligned with a certain kind of patriotism and hunt for justice. Travis Bickle is misguided, hypocritical, bigoted, and hot-headed, but he sees his calling as a noble one, and his bullet as a bullet of justice.

Indeed, Travis’s whole routine becomes a simulation of his military past. He writes in his journal that he has let his body go since becoming a cab driver, and we see him going through various strenuous exercises in order to become strong again. He insists that “every muscle must be tight,” and we see him pursue an almost Olympic discipline in order to maintain the health of his body. Feeling corrupted by the neurotic and unhealthy tempo of New York City, Travis re-imposes a strict military code on himself, trying to become the strongest and best possible version of himself. Travis seeks to only think of health, strength, and physical competence. The viewer wonders if this is not its own perverse form of “morbid self attention,” as we see Travis plunge deeper and deeper into alienated obsession and narcissism. Staring at his own reflection in the mirror, Travis is self-obsessed and unhinged, a terrifying specimen of unchecked masculine self-regard.