Taxi Driver’s script reeks of loneliness, and so does the protagonist, Travis Bickle (played by Robert DeNiro). When Bickle is being interviewed for the cab driving job, the personnel officer immediately points out that “we don’t need any misfits around here, son,” so right off, it’s a foreboding that Travis is probably a misfit. An indication that Bickle lacks communication skills is also hinted in the fact that he doesn’t have a phone. The inciting incident happens when Travis goes to the porn theater and starts talking to the girl at the counter as if he’s interested in dating her. This is where it is confirmed for the first time that Travis is a serious loner, a reject with little social skills. (The amount of time he spends at the porn theater could be used reading self-help books.)
The antagonist is Travis’s own self worth. Travis wants to be a person, but a few times he said that he wasn’t even a person. He is a pitiful character that makes the viewer feel sorry for him, standing in his own way of getting what he wants, because he thinks that being a person requires being accepted by society. Travis also wants a woman, particularly Betsy, but his social skills are a hindrance. What Travis “needs” is to learn acceptable social skills and acceptance by society.
On their first date, Betsy tells Travis about a song by Kris Kristofferson that is about a walking contradiction – which is exactly what Travis is. He views everything in the city as trash, yet his own apartment is littered with garbage, dirt, old furniture, and porn. Throughout the script, he talks about cleaning up the trash, the scum, the filth, yet he has created it in his own living space. Everything that he despises is exactly the way he lives.
On their second date, Travis takes Betsy to a movie – but to her surprise, it’s at the porn theater – another indication that Travis is clueless as to what is acceptable behavior in the real world. This is Plot Point 1, because then Betsy leaves and doesn’t want anything to do with Travis anymore. Boy loses girl, so this sets up everything for Act II.
One of the symbols I noted in the script was the Venus de Milo on the purple cloth at the counter of the porn theater. Venus de Milo is a representation of beauty and the color purple often represents royalty, which completely contradicts the way the women are treated in the movies shown at the theater. But the Venus de Milo is also armless, which could indicate that Travis does not getting any intimacy from women. He does, however, seem to view Betsy and Iris (played by a 12-year-old Jodie Foster) as goddesses (and Betsy as an angel), even though he exhibits stalker-ish behavior.
Before Betsy and Travis’s date, he has a couple of bottles of pills on the table. After the date, he has a “giant bottle of aspirin,” which clues us in that not having a woman in his life is hurting him. In both scenes he has a bottle of apricot brandy. Apricots are often symbolic of women and beauty, and brandy a sweet liquor.
At the very beginning of the script, Travis is wearing an Army jacket with a patch that reads “King Kong Company”. That in itself hinted to me that Travis is still at war, at least within himself. Around page 50, Travis buys guns and then changes his apartment and puts up newspaper clippings about Palantine, who is running for President. Travis also begins working out and going to the shooting range. It is obvious he is planning something, but it seemed to me like he was preparing for war. There is even a hint of it when he drives around and sees a gang of punks throwing a wine bottle at him. Then he goes into a store, sees a guy robbing it, pulls out a gun and blows his face off, and then after that he goes to the porn theater like nothing ever happened. This is Plot Point 2, because now Travis has killed someone and there is no going back.
Travis “kills” his own television set when he rocks it and tips it over during a soap opera scene in which a female actress is rejecting a male. Now he is really beginning to lose it and feeling loneliness. He shaves his head as if he’s still a soldier and shows up at a rally for Palantine, appearing to have a plan in mind, but never goes through with anything. But in the next scene when he’s back in his apartment, he says, “The time is coming,” referring to another rally.
Travis briefly meets Iris, or at least her pimp, who hands the cabbie a $20 bill. Travis is ashamed to use the money, because he knows what the young girl does for it. He later pays to see Iris, but not to have sex. He wants to rescue her, but she doesn’t seem to want to be rescued. Like him, she lives in her own world. When he hands the same $20 bill back to the old man before he leaves, he makes a big deal out of it, and I think it’s because he probably thinks that the money belongs to Iris. He doesn’t view her as scum, because she’s a child, but he does about the pimp and the old guy.
At the end of the script, the voiceover of Travis is all about his loneliness, how he is “God’s lonely man,” cleaning up his apartment in much the same way he’s planning on cleaning up the street trash. He ends up back at a rally and gets chased away by the Secret Service, so he goes to see Iris again and shoots her pimp, the old guy that takes the money, and her customer. Travis also gets shot, but he lives and becomes a hero with his name in headlines for shooting a pimp, and Iris’s parents can’t thank him enough for having their daughter back. Had he shot the candidate, he’d have been labeled a psychotic killer. But since he shot a pimp, everyone viewed him as a hero.
The script’s weak ending is cliché, with Betsy in Travis’s cab saying maybe she’ll see him again, hinting that boy gets girl back. Perhaps the ending meant that Travis is a real person now that he’s a hero and that he’s no longer “God’s lonely man.”