The Taxi

The windshield of the taxi is the lens through which Travis views the city, and the taxi itself is a vehicle of loneliness and isolation. As the opening credits role, Travis drives his taxi through the city in the rain. The lights of the city are blurred through the rain on the windshield until the wipers reveal the scene. For the second time, the rain blurs the scene through the windshield, but this time the wipers do not make everything clear again. This blurry view suggests that Travis's view of the city and the world is skewed. Travis never sees the world as it actually is. Because his perspective is warped by mental illness, the taxi, in a way, protects him from the outside world. Inside the taxi, Travis isn't vulnerable to jealous men, beautiful women, and his own angry rages. Outside, the world is full of danger. Within the taxi, Travis is safer, but he must endure isolation even when he has passengers. Passengers often pretend Travis doesn't exist, and personal connections are rarely, if ever, attempted.


Though Travis never says anything overtly racist, besides using the word "spook" in his diary, his racism is clear from the way he looks at the black people around him. Travis notices black men everywhere, revealing a deep-seated fear and hatred of black men in particular. The constant shots of groups of black people and black men reveal Travis's obsession. The camera focuses on the black people walking through the streets or sitting in the diner as if they are from outer space. Black people are often shot in slow motion, showing that Travis's gaze lingers on them. He is fascinated with what he hates. Travis's obsession separates him from society, because for the most part the people around Travis accept what goes on. While Wizard and Doughboy are happy to sit around with Charlie T, Travis is uncomfortable. When he leaves the diner with Wizard, Travis looks back at Charlie T, who pretends to shoot Travis with a gun he makes out of his hand. Travis is disturbed by this gesture. Travis also seems jealous of black men. He focuses on the black couple dancing when he watches American Bandstand, as if he is not able to believe that they can be happy while he must be alone.

Only two characters in the film share Travis's racism. The first is the unnamed passenger, who wants to kill his wife for having slept with a "nigger." The passenger gives voice to words Travis thinks but did not have the courage to say, which is why the passenger has so much influence over Travis. Some critics argue that the passenger is an object of Travis's imagination, representing the deepest recesses of his psyche. The other racist character is the man who runs the convenience store. When Travis shoots the young black man who is robbing the convenience store, he worries about the consequences of having used an unlicensed gun. The man behind the counter tells Travis not to worry about it, and he beats the dead man with a crowbar. Travis feels justified in his racism because a few other people share it, even though their feelings probably do not resemble his. In the original screenplay, all the people Travis kills at the end of the film were written as black. Scorsese changed this aspect of the story because he believed racism to that extreme would be too controversial.


Images on television reveal to Travis an alternate reality he himself cannot take part in, where relationships between people are possible. Unlike the actors in the porn films Travis frequents, the people on television seem real to him, and he both envies and resents them. When Travis watches television near the end of the film, he watches it with a gun in his hand, occasionally aiming it at the screen. He watches American Bandstand just after he kills the black man who robs the convenience store. The first image he sees on the screen is a close-up of a young and happy-looking black couple. We get an extended view of the dance floor as the camera zooms into the screen. Amidst all the slow-dancing couples there is one pair of shoes without anyone in them. Travis resembles those shoes not only because he is single, but also because he is not even there. He observes other people's happiness through the lens of television.

Later, Travis watches a soap opera conversation between a husband and wife, which, unlike American Bandstand, was shot specifically for this film. The wife is leaving her husband for her lover. Instead of pointing his gun at the television, Travis tilts the table it rests on until it topples, and the monitor shatters. When the television breaks, so does what's left of Travis's self-control. He has broken his only window onto outside relationships. He puts his head into his hands and rocks back and forth hysterically. At the end of the film, Travis's room post-shoot out contains a new television to replace the old one, indicating that Travis is trying to make a fresh start.