The great Robert De Niro as the menacing Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

The great Robert De Niro as the menacing Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

The great Hollywood screenwriter Paul Schrader once famously quoted that “True loneliness can be experienced only in a crowd” and if there has been any character in the world of cinema that reflects this maxim perfectly then it has to be Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver a masterpiece directed by the great Martin Scorscese and coincidentally also written by Paul Schrader. This now iconic character in world cinema was played by the great Robert De Niro.

The background of Travis is that he is a Vietnam returned war hero and is apparently suffering from severe insomnia and depression. He is also is essentially a socially isolated individual with no friends or family to fall back on for emotional support. The fact that he suffers from severe bouts of insomnia and loneliness results in Travis venturing into various theatres in the city that provides porn movies as entertainment. He also is a taxi driver by profession which allows him to drive through the night for 12 hours and through the week which in turn enables him to reduce his loneliness to the minimum. It is under such circumstances that he happens to come across a beautiful women called Betsy(Cybil Shepherd) and instantly falls in love with her.

After he convinces her for a coffee date during the course of which he impresses her with his charm and honesty he then convinces her for a movie date. It is at this movie date when she realizes that the movie is a Swedish porn film that she rejects him. This rejection results in Travis increasingly becoming paranoid and showing signs of insanity which includes acting out his violent fantasies in reality. Those fantasies include trying to build a body, buying guns, getting a Mohawk haircut in an attempt to assassinate a senator which is eventually unsuccessful. It is during this time he also gets obsessed by the thought of rescuing a 12-year-old prostitute Iris(Jodie Foster) from the business and her pimp called Matthew also called “Sport”(Harvey Keitel). The rest of the movie deals with Travis acting his violent fantasies and, thereby accidentally becoming a hero for Iris who is rescued from the business and is eventually sent back to her family.

The character of Travis is interesting and extremely well written and by the great Paul Schrader. The most interesting aspect of Travis is the fact although he is a clear example of a man on the verge of absolute insanity i.e. a psychopath yet he ends up becoming a hero while acting out his psychopathic and violent fantasies which many a times is observed in real life where actual villains are glorified as heroes. What is also interesting about this character is what writer Paul Schrader had quite rightly commented during the making of Taxi Driver documentary that “The taxi is used as a metaphor for a male drifting loneliness” which certainly makes Travis an interesting character and reflects his state of mind perfectly. The fact that Travis is unable to understand social norms is clearly evident when he takes Betsy to the “dirty movie” which proves that he is a sociopath too apart from being man on the verge of losing his insanity which makes this character all the more fascinating.

As for Robert De Niro who played Travis Bickle his performance was magnificent to say the least. It was precisely for such a tour de force performance that he deservingly won an Oscar nomination in 1976. The best feature of De Niro’s performance was his methodical  and meticulous preparation for the role which included actually obtaining a taxi driver’s license and driving during nights as a taxi driver all around New York City. What he also brought into the role really well was a certain menace that was essential to play a man who was basically on the verge of insanity. He was especially brilliant in scenes with Harvey Keitel a few of them supposed to have been improvised (according to director Scorscese) as also the scene in front of mirror and the famous dialogue “You talkin to me” which was also improvised by De Niro himself and, which not only turned out be a brilliant performance but the dialogue has certainly gone on to become one of world cinema’s most iconic dialogue ever.

So with Travis Bickle having been voted as the 30th greatest villain in the American Film Institute’s(AFI) list of 100 greatest heroes and villains he will certainly go down as one of most memorable characters ever to be written in world cinema. More importantly what will also be remembered is the magnificent yet frightening performance by a genuine artist called “ROBERT DE NIRO”.

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The great Hollywood screenwriter Paul Schrader once famously quoted that “True loneliness can be experienced only in a crowd” and if there has been any character in the world of cinema that reflects this maxim perfectly then it has to be Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver a masterpiece directed...