Taxi Driver – An analogy of Travis Bickle

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.”

The Sweet Hereafter – Series Bitterness and Greed

The Sweet Hereafter is a terribly poignant movie. There are several underlying themes of the script, including transformation, guilt, regret, blame, revenge, and deceit. The entire script is an awful cycle of deceit and blame that is generally about a school bus crash, yet goes much deeper into the lives of each character.

The inciting incident occurs when attorney Mitchell’s phone rings while he’s in a carwash, and his drug-addicted daughter, Zoe, is on the other end. Incidentally, the blues song that plays at the end of this scene transfers over to the next father-daughter relationship between Nicole and Sam, another father and daughter. The following scene takes in an airport bathroom with yet another father diapering his baby girl while Mitchell observes. I believe the writer purposely chose to connect these three things to demonstrate the dynamics of father-daughter relationships, also showing us three different lapses of time.

Billy, father of a deceased disabled son resulting from the bus crash, and Mitchell speak at the gas station, but Billy refuses to join in the lawsuit. This gets in the way of Mitchell’s case. He needs Billy to testify, because he is the one that followed the bus that morning, and he is a critical witness. Mitchell gets desperate and even goes as far as blaming television and shopping malls for paralyzing children. (Billy is the only one in the script that points out that the whole town is blaming each other for an accident.)

Each character seems to blame someone else for something. Risa, mother of one of the deceased who has an affair with Billy, told Mitchell of a drunk man named Kyle feeling trapped by his life and blaming his wife. Later, Mitchell convinces Wanda and Otto (parents of one of the children) that there is no such thing as an accident, that someone is to blame. Wanda, even after dismissing the thought of a lawsuit, begins to look for someone to blame, to go to jail, and then agrees that a lawsuit is the right choice.

Mitchell blames himself for his daughter’s condition. His constant thoughts about the past and his conversation with Alison on the plane shows that he feels regret, and his constant talk about how all of their children are dead reveals that to the audience that his daughter died a long time ago. He had the opportunity once to allow Zoe to die when she was a baby, but he was determined to save her from a spider bite, and he keeps daydreaming about that incident. Is he feeling guilty that he didn’t allow her to die then instead of watching her slowly kill herself with drugs later? Or is he feeling guilty that he no longer has control over helping “keeping her calm and relaxed so that he doesn’t let her little heart beat too fast and spread the poison around”? Zoe blames her father for having to sell her own blood to make money, because he refuses to send her anymore.

Early on in the script, Nicole – one of the survivors – observed that children made Delores, the bus driver, happy. During her deposition, she lied and accused Delores of speeding and causing the crash. On one hand, it seemed as if Nicole viewed Delores as the Pied Piper, taking the children away to a faraway place, some place “strange and new” over the mountain. Nicole was the lame one left behind in a wheel chair, and all of her playmates are gone, just like the poem. On the other hand, it seemed like she did Delores a favor by forcing her to leave town. Nicole also seems to blame herself that she is the only child that lived.

Nicole’s purpose for blaming Delores was also revenge for her father Sam’s abuse. She knows that Sam wants money, so lied in order to punish him. As Nicole reads the Pied Piper story to the children, she is symbolically reading about herself. As the Pied Piper plays his flute, her own father is robbing his daughter with his incestuous relationship, making promises that he never kept. She ends up using this to her own advantage in the end, taking control of her own life by demanding what she wants and placing blame on both of her parents for what they did or didn’t do. At the same time, Nicole also sees Mitchell as the Pied Piper, misleading the town into believing his lies. Mitchell blames Nicole for screwing up the entire lawsuit. Just as the bus went downhill before the crash, so does the lawsuit. Mitchell argues with Sam over Nicole’s testimony and blames him that something isn’t normal about a child that would do such a thing.

The script also hints that Nicole blames herself for allowing a child, Sean, to sit next to her on the bus on the day of the crash and making another student, Mason, moved to the back. Could Mason have also lived if she hadn’t made that choice? Risa also seems to blame herself for not allowing her son, Sean, to stay home on the day of the crash, even when he begged her. Coincidentally, Risa was almost run over the same day, and Sean glared at Doris as if she was to blame.

There are a lot of symbolic references in the script. For example, Risa’s husband Wendell’s application of enamel on the crack in the tub correlates with the crack in his relationship with her. Billy’s shower washes away the enamel, in much the same way he’s taking away whatever it is Risa once had with her husband. Risa replaces the enamel over the crack when Billy leaves the motel – symbolically covering up their affair.

Another symbolic reference is when Sam paints the wheelchair ramp green. He is looking for money, and the ramp is symbolic of what he is looking for in the lawsuit. He later paints it red, which is symbolic of blood – or life – as his daughter was the only child spared in the accident.

Delores equated the children as berries. Children were the fruit of her happiness, and she genuinely cared for them, referring to them as “my kids”. At one point, she even doubts herself and begins to blame herself that perhaps she could have been speeding on the day of the crash. (Ironically, her husband Abbott and Delores both say that a true jury are the peers in a person’s town.)

By placing the events in a non-linear fashion, it shows the parallel events in each character’s lives. In the end, it all fits together beautifully. The viewers want to know what really happened in the crash, so by placing it at the end of act two, not only does it cause suspense, but it allows the writer to place the miscellaneous twists and turns surrounding the crash in different perspectives. Each character, even if they don’t leave the town or physically die, ends up in “someplace strange and new”, leaving behind the life they once knew.