Demon Slayer With A Dragonslayer’s review published on Letterboxd:
There is just so much I want to say about "Taxi Driver". Looking at it more carefully, I noticed something that seems so familiar to me. Something that I've seen in myself and in many of the people around me.
"Taxi Driver" is a film that often is described as a story about loneliness, masculinity and a lot of what's wrong with society. But here, I want to make a interpretation about the film that is similar to my interpretation with "Fight Club": a story about a man who does see that there is something wrong with the society he lives in but comes to many wrong conclusions to how these problems come to exist and how they must be solved.
Travis reminds me of Rorschach from "Watchmen", a character whose inspiration is the character, Batman, a vigilante who goes around in the city beating up criminals and is praised as one of the most badass characters in fictional history. Alan Moore created Rorschach as a parody to Batman and as a way of communicating how the real Batman would be in our reality or more specifically, just what is wrong with Batman as a hero and as a symbol of justice. Rorschach and Batman are both individuals that are willing to go against the law in order to punish a bunch of random criminals and they both believe that the city is as horrible as it is because criminals exist and so, to solve the problem, they must do whatever it takes to stop all of those criminals. Now... what is the problem with this? Well, first, let me ask you a question: how does crime come to exist? Is it because people are just naturally and inevitably gonna commit crime because we are doomed to live in a naturally evil world? Is it because law and order isn't going hard enough on crime? Or is it because of socioeconomic problems and policies that create more of these problems rather than stopping/preventing them? I would say the answer is the latter. Batman and Rorschach are examples of how our current and most dominating perspective on justice are failures into increasing the well being and happiness of people because they are specifically attacking the symptoms created by a corrupted system that leads to higher amounts of crime. We can see how cities are dirty, broken and one of the few good looking places are a mansion of a billionaire and a big industry. Poverty is a big problem in both of these places and there must be something that must be causing it but we don't ever get any real answers for why this is the case. We are only told that there are criminals that must be stopped and that's all that matters. The difference between both characters (depending on which Batman are you focusing on) is that Batman is seen as altruistic in his solutions for commiting justice and even when he acts in a questionable way, Batman is ultimately framed as neccesary to maintain order in Gotham. While Rorschach, at least in intention, is meant to be a character who we must see as a crazy maniac who is willing to commit immoral acts just so he can prove his point to his conspiracy and his moral absolutism is rather hypocritical because despite of the fact that he says he will stop all evil, he does bad things himself and in the end, he rather stop himself from telling everyone about the genocide of many New Yorkers when it would be immoral to hide such a horrible fact and rather wants to die to not face the fact that he is breaking away from his moral code.
And just like Rorschach, Travis is a mentally unstable, anti-social man who sees everything wrong with society from its symptoms created by people in power, had a poor history with women (which leads him to a mysogynist perspective on them) like thinking sex workers are dirty, lives isolated in his thoughts while ignoring societal reasons for why him and the world is so miserable and maybe, he is also someone who would be very invested in reactionary thinking. Rorschach is also someone who is revealed to read an article from a far right organization which explains how superheroes have a history with the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan and also, justifies it by saying that they were doing everything for the good of the people. Just like Rorschach, Travis is a character who is never explicitly hinted to be a racist but there are clues to how he perceives that race. And both characters see themselves as the solution to terminating the evil in the world and they must do so by punishing the criminals.
The movie, rather than show us how things are, shows us how Travis sees things. And what he sees is poverty, sex workers and crime and he assumes that because these things exist on their own, then that's why the world has gone bad. And also, maybe he also thinks that black people are the ones responsible for many of the crimes as he seems rather disgusted being around them. And it's even more telling when you take into account that he does tell Betsy that he is not really involved in politics and doesn't have any idea about any of the policies from the candidate, Palentine, despite of getting somewhat involved in supporting the campaign. However, despite of Travis basically saying that he is "apolitical", he clearly has his own political views like everything that I've explained before.
What's also interesting is that his indifference and isolation to people does express a political idea of his, which is that he might not believe in that people should make the choices for society. This is hinted through the scene where the candidate explains in his interview on television that he desires for the people to have a say in how America works and Travis clearly seems rather uncomfortable with what he is expressing and he later gets guns to later commit his assassination. You could say that he does this because Betsty broke up with him but I believe there were other intentions to this plan.
He also seems to have a problem with communes as shown through Iris explaining that she wants to escape from prostitution by going to those communes.
And also, Travis is shown to be friends with people which are rather conservative and even making some homophobic comments.
He is someone who is shown gain confidence and feel powerful through expressing his macho attitude and owning guns that he plans to use to kill criminals. And we also see how he tries very hard on trying to seem like the tough guy and the way how he expresses it on the movie feels very underwhelming and pathetic rather than inspiring and intimidating, which communicates perfectly how such people must be perceived.
And in the end, when he attempts to kill the candidate, he fails miserably and when he tries to kill the sex traffickers, he sloppily wastes so many bullets on trying to kill them by shooting them on the less lethal areas, which also makes me doubt that he is even a Marine because I would expect someone of such a previous position to perform better than this and maybe what he tells is a lie, was rejected from joining or was kicked out due to poor attitude. And when this massacre occurs, it is clearly framed as questionable rather than heroic but then we move on to the next scene and it completely changes its tone to a much more light hearted and inspiring one. We see newspapers celebrating Travis and calling him a "hero" for killing some random criminals.
Some people say that the ending is all meant to be a fantasy where Travis sees himself as the hero but I genuinely believe the ending is actually happening but it is meant to represent society's fantasy of what it means to do justice and that justice is by killing criminals and Travis is let off rather easy despite of committing an illegal act. So in a way, this ending shows that society sees people like Travis as heroes and this also works as a way of showing that Travis believes he is one himself even though the final shot seems to imply that there is still something wrong with him.
This story is both a statement about how a reactionary perceives society and how reactionary thinking becomes normalized by society and prevents us from actually looking at the societal causes of these problems.
And thinking about the film this way, it reminds me of my time as a reactionary and how my isolation to everything around me has twisted my mind to an extent that I perceive everything in a wrong way.
While it is important to create policies to solve systemic problems, we must also be able to understand how some of these people come to hold on to such regressive ideas and how we must educate them to see that maybe there is another reason for why everything around them is falling apart and for why they feel unhappy.
Also, one final thing I want to mention and I may be stretching a little... but I think Travis is secretly a pedophile and I believe that the reason he doesn't accept to have sex with her is because he doesn't want to become like the pedophiles he is planning to kill later as it would break his image of the hero. The reasons being is that when Iris starts unclothing, he doesn't immediately stop her. He also doesn't push her back immediately when she is about to remove his pants and the way he tries to act that he is uncomfortable feels a little forced. He is also typically called a killer jokingly by his friends and then uses that nickname to describe the sex trafficker. There's also a scene in which both the sex trafficker and Iris are having a intimate moment and you hear the iconic music playing, which plays around the quiet times with the protagonist and his thoughts.