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Taxi Driver: Anatomy of an Anti-Hero
The defining attribute of the anti-hero, the quality that separates this concept from the traditional hero is that they are flawed. Unlike the traditional, borderline perfect examples of chivalry spoken of in fairy tales anti heroes are marred in some way. While they are still noble, their character is flawed to the core. Travis Bickle embodies this concept because he is a dichotomy of madness and heroism. The following is broken up into three sections examining the three qualities that form an anti-hero: the good, the bad and how they relate.
From the very beginning of the film Travis is driven to stand against corruption. He is driven to his core to stand up against the scum plaguing his city and often speaks of a rain coming to wash it away. Driving through the sleaziest streets of New York, Travis is exposed every day to the corruption that plagues his city. Travis is a soldier who must fight against the enemy of corruption. This all changes when he meets a young girl, innocent and bright eyed, yet marred by the world: the child prostitute named Iris.
Arguably the most important scene in establishing the good within Travis is the scene in the hotel room with Iris. It was not until this scene that I even began to see him as a hero. Up until this point I was intrigued by the enigmatic nature of his character and frightened by his madness. Never once did the thought cross my mind of him being a hero. But in this moment the force that drives his character changes; he is no longer driven just by a desire to stand against corruption but is also driven to stand for Iris. He now does not simply have a principle to fight against but one to fight for. Furthermore it is more than just a cold impersonal principle but also a living, breathing, human being. From this moment on he is no longer a lost soldier beholding corruption and aimlessly trying to combat it. He is now a man with a mission. He sees a way he can truly make a difference in a person’s life. Even if he cannot save himself he can save her.
There is more to Travis Bickle than a lone hero seeking to fight corruption. At the core of his character, alongside his convictions lie deep-rooted and frighteningly real flaws. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, a war that has left its mark on him. The trauma of those events has left Travis beaten, battered and broken. He is an insomniac and a workaholic, never sleeping and working hours that would drive most men to insanity. He never rests, but is constantly moving, as if he is running away from something; away from his past, from his loneliness, perhaps even away from himself.
He even begins to lose his handle on reality, lying to others and almost believing his own lies. The most poignant example of this is when he composes a letter to his parents in the form of an anniversary card. He rattles off telling them he is working for the government on a secret mission. As he composes the letter, it is written with such sincerity and heartfelt honesty. It truly seems as though he truly believes what he is writing. As he is pushed further from reality, he is pushed closer to violence. This violence culminates in the film’s unrelenting and paradoxical, penultimate scene.
The good, the bad, the insane and the heroic and the balance between them are the core of what makes Travis Bickle so intriguing. He is, as one character within the film puts it, “a walking contradiction”. Little did this character know how deeply her innocent comment applied to Travis. His entire existence is a balancing act between the madness and moral conviction.
In many ways Travis Bickle is what an anti-hero looks like in the real world. If this were a film similar to Die Hard the audience would be compelled to cheer during the final scene when Travis’ rage, madness and conviction are unleashed in his rescue of Iris and the brutal slaughter of those who have manipulated her. But in this film it is almost terrifying. It is so because we have seen who Travis is and how he feels. We have seen the depths of the darkness within him and have seen his goodness. I described this scene earlier as paradoxical because it is very much like Travis himself. His actions in this scene are brutal and insane, yet noble and selfless. It is these qualities within him, their importance to his character, and ability to co-exist side by side that make Travis a prime example of the meaning of the anti-hero.