Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver Summary and Analysis of Part 4: Travis the Vigilante


Travis is once again in his apartment, loading his various guns into their secret holsters and putting on a military jacket in front of the mirror. As he zips up the jacket, the camera pans quickly from the reflection in the mirror to Travis, who is mumbling to himself and smiling at his own reflection. Carrying on an imagined conversation, Travis abruptly pulls out a pistol at an imagined enemy and mutters angry obscenities to himself. He carries on an entire conversation with his imagined enemy, challenging them to make a move, before pulling the gun yet again, and slipping it away into its secret holster in his sleeve. Travis then looks back at the mirror and asks, “You talkin’ to me?” challenging his own reflection, and pulling his gun. He then stares, arms crossed, at two posters of Palantine on his apartment wall, as ominous music plays. In voiceover, Travis begins uttering a manifesto, as though rehearsing what he will say when he assassinates Palantine. As he trips over his own words, the film skips and he begins again, before the shot abruptly shifts to show Travis lying down on his bed, still in his boots and military jacket. The voiceover continues: “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up,” and we see the words “Here is” being scrawled in pencil in Travis’s journal. Travis pulls his gun on the mirror one final time, before saying, “You’re dead.”

The scene shifts to a foggy nighttime New York street scene where a woman leans on a hydrant and a man walks towards the hydrant’s spray in silhouette. The scene shift is punctuated by the piercing scream of a young girl. We see Travis’s taxi drive by, as eerie music plays. As a cop car blaring its sirens drives by, Travis gets out of his cab in front of a small convenience store, greets the clerk, and goes to the back of the store to pick up some groceries. As he collects his items, he hears a black man robbing the clerk, and threatening him with a gun. Peering around the corner, Travis sees the robber threatening the clerk, asking for more money. Drawing his own gun, Travis gets the attention of the robber and shoots him in the head as he turns around. Still holding his groceries in his left hand, Travis keeps his gun pointed at the robber and mutters “shit man” to himself. The convenience store clerk prods the body of the robber to confirm whether he is dead, then props him up against the counter. Travis is concerned about his deed, but the clerk insists that he will take care of the body himself, and beats the dead body as Travis walks away.

The scene cuts to Travis at home, pointing his gun at the image of a black man dancing with a white woman on American Bandstand on his television, as mellow rock music plays. He watches the wholesome teens on television hold each other and dance and he leans his gun up against his head and watches with a vague expression on his face, as Jackson Browne’s “Late for the Sky” rings out in sunny major harmonies. The camera shifts to show Manhattan skyscrapers and apartment buildings shot from below, and we hear a speech by Palantine reverberating off the city streets. The camera pans down to Travis in his car wearing aviator sunglasses, as Palantine tells the crowds, “We the people suffered in Vietnam.” Through a nearby window, Travis can see the gesticulating hands of Palantine making a speech to a small group.

In voiceover, Travis writes a card addressed to his mother and father. He writes that July is the month of their wedding anniversary, as well as Father’s Day and his mother’s birthday. Meanwhile the camera shows crowds assembled to hear Palantine speak. Travis apologizes for not being able to remember the exact dates of all of the special occasions in July, but writes that he hopes the card he now writes can count for all of them, and then apologizes for not being able to send them his address, because of the “sensitive nature” of his work for the government. He writes that he is “healthy” and well and has been “going with a girl for several months” named “Betsy.” As the camera pans down to the interior of Travis’s cab, a cop peeks his head through Travis’s window and tells him he cannot park near the rally. Ominous music plays as the cop condescendingly ushers Travis along. Travis drives away and we hear Palantine’s speech.

Travis sits at his kitchen table and reads his card to himself, in which he wishes his parents’ well, hopes “no one has died,” and assures them that one day “there will be a knock on the door and it’ll be me.” He closes the greeting card and the scene shifts to a soap opera that Travis is watching, in which a young couple have an emotional conversation. Again, Travis brandishes his .44 magnum at the television. The couple tearfully discuss a divorce—the woman seems to be in love with two men—and Travis pushes the television backwards with his foot, slowly, before pushing it altogether onto the floor and breaking it. As the television smokes on the ground, he rests his head on his fist, muttering “dammit,” and appearing remorseful.

During the day, Travis witnesses a fight between two men from his cab, before noticing the young prostitute he has encountered before, walking with the same older friend across the street. Getting out of his cab, Travis walks alongside the girls; they assume he is looking to pick them up. The girl directs him towards a man named “Matthew”—her pimp—and says she will wait for him at the corner. Walking up to Matthew, Travis says he needs some action, and Matthew thinks that Travis is a police officer, insisting, “I’m clean!” When Travis assures him he is not a cop, Matthew wipes his face with a handkerchief and asks if Travis has a .38 hidden in his sock, which Travis denies. Telling Travis the rate for sleeping with the young prostitute, Matthew launches into a story about a horse he owned in Coney Island who was hit by a car, shrugging. Matthew then tells Travis that if he wants to save some money, he shouldn’t have sex with her, because he’d come back every night, before launching into a crude list of sex acts Travis might perform with the underage girl. Travis goes to pay Matthew, but Matthew insists that he pay the prostitute directly. When Matthew jokingly calls him a cop, Travis looks offended and assures him, “I’m hip!” which makes Matthew laugh. Stone-faced Travis stares at Matthew, making him laugh nervously, before walking over to meet the prostitute.

Travis and the prostitute go into a dilapidated apartment building. Walking down a dark hallway, the couple encounters a man who tells them a room will cost $10, which Travis shells out, and that he is timing them. Walking through a hanging bead curtain, the prostitute beckons Travis to follow her. Travis asks the prostitute if she’s really 12 1/2 as she insists that he only has 15 minutes, lights a cigarette and tells him that when it burns out his time is up. The room is filled with candles and the prostitute begins to take off her shoes, cynically deflecting Travis’s questions about her age. When he asks her her name, she tells him it’s “Easy,” but when pressed reveals that her real name is “Iris.” Travis tells her that Iris is a nice name, as Iris chuckles and unbuttons her blouse. As she starts to take off her blouse, Travis stops her and reminds her that he picked her up earlier, but she was pulled away by Matthew, which Iris says she doesn’t remember.

Even though Iris feigns ignorance about their earlier meeting, Travis insists that he will save her, but Iris tells him they “better make it, or Sport’ll get mad.” “Sport” is Iris’s nickname for Matthew, she tells him, and she begins to unbuckle Travis’s belt, but he stops her and tells her that she got in his cab and that she clearly wanted to get out of the prostitution ring. Shrugging it off, Iris suggests she “must’ve been stoned,” and she continues to take off his pants. Travis rises quickly and tells her he doesn’t want to have sex: he wants to help her. Iris again turns the conversation back to sex and goes to fellate Travis, but he throws her towards the couch angrily, asking if she wants to get out of there. Iris tells him that she can leave anytime she wants to. He asks her again about the night she tried to escape. In response, Iris tells him, “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.” Disheartened, he drops it and tries to go, and she tells him that his concern means a lot, and when he asks her if they can meet again, she suggests they meet for breakfast the next day. After some hesitation, he agrees and leaves, but not before introducing himself, holding her cheek and calling her “sweet Iris.” As he leaves, he hands the man in the hallway the crumpled $20 bill that Max threw in his passenger seat earlier after Iris tried to escape.

Travis and Iris meet for breakfast the following day. Wearing green sunglasses, Iris spreads jam on a piece of toast, telling Travis she would never return to her parents, because they hate her and that’s why she left to begin with. When Travis tells Iris a “girl should live at home,” she widens her eyes comically and asks if he’s heard of “women’s lib.” He persists, telling her she should be home and dating boys, and when she retorts that he is a “square,” he becomes angry again, telling her she is the real square, for sleeping with “killers and junkies.” Irritated, Iris asks Travis who in her gang is a killer, and Travis tells her Matthew, which she denies, insisting, “Sport never killed nobody. He's a Libra.” As Travis tries to intervene, Iris continues to talk in depth about astrology, before asking him, “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?”

Travis deflects and asks how she will leave, and she tells him she will just leave. When he presses her further, she jokes that he wants her to call the cops, but he retorts, “The cops don’t do nothing, you know that.” Iris insists that Matthew treats her well, and never beats her up, and as Travis tries to tell her that she cannot in good conscience allow child prostitution to continue, she says she is going to run away to a commune in Vermont, and invites him along. Laughing, Travis tells her he doesn’t go to “places like that,” and that he “doesn’t get along with people like that,” which prompts her to ask if he is a Scorpio. Cryptically, Travis tells her he has to stay in New York because he is doing something important for the government. Iris giggles and accuses him of being a narc, which he playfully agrees he is, prompting her to say, “I don’t know who’s weirder, you or me.” When Iris invites him to come to the commune yet again, he tells her he won’t but he’ll give her the money to go, as she puts on a new pair of sunglasses. When she refuses his money, he insists that he wants to give it to her, and even more cryptically tells her he “might be going away for awhile.”


This portion of the movie shows Travis embarking on his transformation deeper into his identity as a self-elected vigilante savior. Our suspicions about Travis' loosening grip on sanity are confirmed as he talks to himself in the mirror, puffs up his own ego, shoots a robber in the face, and pursues his wild approach to justice with a self-assured fervor. Cleaning up the streets and saving his community from violence give Travis the war he has been wanting to fight for the entire film. Discharged from the marines, Travis seeks to inhabit the crime-ridden streets of New York City with the same sense of purpose that he felt in Vietnam, keeping the peace and instilling justice.

Travis’s transformation is shot in inventive ways, which communicate the ways he is shifting towards a more violent lifestyle. His dissociation and detachment are highlighted when he speaks to himself in the mirror. At first, the camera rests on his image in the mirror, before quickly panning to Travis himself, muttering to himself and engaged in an elaborate fantasy. While Travis is addressing an imagined other, pointing his gun and uttering threats, the man he addresses is actually himself, suggesting his simultaneous narcissism and self-hatred. The pan of the camera draws attention to the fact that Travis is alone, and that he has become obsessed with his own image. Then, later in the scene, when he stops his angry tirade mid-sentence and begins again, the film itself seems to skip, and Travis’s turning body in the frame returns to its original position. The way Travis’s speech skips and jolts as he speaks to himself in the mirror, racing to keep up with his manic thought process, and the frenetic and unusual way in which the scene is shot, reveal that while Travis may have found his purpose, an outlet for his pent up angst, he has also become unhinged, unpredictable, and dangerous. Later, after Travis kills the robber in the convenience store, the viewer watches the aftermath from above, as though watching a security tape. The violence that Travis committed and its bleak aftermath become objectified when shot from above, and it is one the first instances in the film in which anything is shown from above, the rest of the movie having mostly been shot low to the ground. Just as Travis has become detached and dissociated from his own actions—committing a violent act impulsively and almost in spite of himself—the camera itself begins to view things from a detached and elevated angle.

The soundtrack also begins to reflect Travis’s detachment from reality in this portion of the film, becoming oddly synched with with the onscreen action. As Travis points his pistol at the black man dancing on American Bandstand, and then rests the gun up against his own head, Jackson Browne’s velvety voice sings “Late for the Sky.” The emotionally attuned 1970s pop rock personas of Kris Kristofferson and Jackson Browne are a far cry from the gritty, repressed, and toxically angry attitudes of Travis Bickle, but their lyrics aptly underscore his psychic struggle. First, as Betsy points out, the Kris Kristofferson lyrics describe Travis’s contradictory nature perfectly. Now, Jackson Browne sings, “How long have I been driftin’ all through the night?” In these lyrics, we see Travis’s struggle, and we know that the “end” to which Browne refers can easily be applied to Travis’s annihilatory impulses and persistent death drive. Travis earlier told Betsy that he doesn’t know much about music and he doesn’t listen to records, so it is especially unnerving and evocative when we hear the easy-breezy harmonies of Jackson Browne as Travis brandishes his gun at the television.

As Travis appears further and further detached from reality, we begin to see his temper as something over which he has very little control, and which causes him remorse. Travis has a violent temper which seems out of his control, often causing him to recoil even from himself in shame. It is in this part of the movie that we see Travis exhibiting remorse and an almost split ambivalence about his own actions. As much as Travis says he wants to instill order, his actions show that his impulses are also destructive. After he shoots the robber in the convenience store, Travis remains collected and cool, yet filled with remorse and anxiety. After he kicks his own television onto the floor, breaking it in a smoky, sparky mess, he holds his head in his hands and scolds himself for being reckless. Thus we come to see that while Travis is fighting many external demons—the decadence and corruption of New York City, the rejection of the woman he admires—his primary demons are internal, as he does battle with his own anger, and his vague and haunting feeling of disenfranchisement.

Travis’s self-hatred reveals itself further in his interaction with Matthew. When Matthew runs down the list of all of the sexual acts he might perform with the underage girl, Travis is clearly uncomfortable, but it is not until Matthew jokingly calls him “copper” that Travis becomes really angry, staring at Matthew menacingly and insisting that he is “hip.” Travis imagines that he is a rebel, but he does not actually fit into any countercultural aesthetic, and instead appears to the world as a clean-cut man, not “hip” at all. The viewer sees Travis’s inability to blend in to the grimy world around him as a major point of shame. Travis wants to be much more powerful and effectual than a cop, but he fears his ordinary appearance gives him away as being a square.

Indeed, the question of “squareness” vs hipness comes up again when Iris and Travis meet for breakfast. As Travis insists that Iris ought to be home with her parents, she references “women’s lib” (even if she is being somewhat ironic), and tells him he is a square for saying she ought to be at home rather than working as a prostitute. In Taxi Driver, hipness and the counterculture are often conflated with vice and criminality, and Travis’s feelings of alienation are not just alienation from the normative world, but also alienation from the “hipness” that he believes is polluting 1970s New York. Progressivism is complexly and often inconsistently defined throughout the film, as Travis misguidedly conflates hipness with blackness, homosexuality, and other non-normative identities, but then is shocked when the progressive woman he loves does not want to go to a porno with him. It is not hard to agree with Travis that Iris should leave the life of underage sex work, but we know him to be misguided and politically backwards in many other ways. Here again, Travis is a “walking contradiction.” All at once, he is a violent and reckless renegade looking to take down the system, a prototypical punk, as well as a poster child for normative masculinity—recently discharged from the marines, paternalistic towards the women in his life, and sporting aviator sunglasses and a button down shirt that get him mistaken for a cop.

One of the most affecting moments in the film occurs when the precocious Iris calls Travis on his ethical presumptuousness and lack of self-reflection, asking him, “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?” In this moment, Iris asks Travis to define himself, to position his own subjectivity and ethical standing in relation to the rest of the world, and what he sees as its flaws. While Travis is certainly doing a noble act in trying to rescue Iris from the prostitution ring, his political inconsistencies, hypocrisy, and lack of self-awareness haunt him throughout, and Iris calls this out succinctly and directly here. The audience knows that, indeed, Travis does look himself in the mirror, but it is only in character as a cocky assassin, a contrived identity, at once self-admiring and self-destroying, but unable to see himself clearly.