Heroes vs. Villains: Where does Travis Bickle from ‘Taxi Driver’ fall?

The NCAA basketball tournaments are less than a month away. Because it’s obviously never been done before, HitFix is going to host its own tournament, but this battle won’t take place between teams on Tobacco Road. We’ve got something more exciting in mind.  In our competition, the greatest Heroes from the worlds of television and movies will face off versus the greatest Villains. 

The committee is currently mulling over the brackets, but we need your help.  There are six characters who some would consider anti-heroes, but we know then need to part of the battle royale. Do they fall in the Heroes bracket or the Villains bracket?

You decide.  You have 48 hours. Choose wisely.

We’ve had Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg both offer up anti-heroes for you guys to vote on already, but if you haven’t already been following this series, let me catch you up. We’re going to ask you guys to spend March helping us eventually whittle things down to the greatest hero vs. villain showdown possible, but before we even get started, we need you to tell us where you’d place six characters.

Travis Bickle is, in my professional opinion, a dumb-ass. I’ve seen “Taxi Driver” so many times at this point, and I adore the craft of it, the look and the sound of Scorsese’s New York, the sleepwalker rhythms of Schrader’s interior monologues, the amazing weirdo playfulness of the way De Niro approached playing Bickle. More than anything, though, I watch the film amazed at how Bickle seems like a guy who just barely understands basic human behavior. He constantly seems like he has no idea how to behave with other people or what is expected of him.

The ending of the film is one that I never considered ambiguous for the first decade that I was a fan, but that I have started to see differently over time. That last scene in the cab, where Travis gets a chance to finally see Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) again now that he’s considered a hero, and he has the perfect final lines, the perfect capper to a relationship in which he is pretty much always wrong… I would have never ever called that out as a fantasy when I first saw the film, but now I’m not so sure.

Bickle’s actions do indeed “save” a child prostitute from what seems to be a fairly awful life, but there’s a good chance Iris (Jodie Foster) never saw his actions as a salvation. She’s a kid in the film, but she is hardened by the world, and the sheer horrific violence of Bickle’s final assault on Sport (Harvey Keitel) most likely sent her into completely understandable shock. Besides, Travis only snapped on Sport because he couldn’t get to Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), the political nominee who Betsy works for, and who is his initial target. He wasn’t really looking to be a hero… he was just looking to make a big noise, something that would make a woman look at him.

There’s a prescience to “Taxi Driver,” and I think Travis Bickle is a figure who is just as relevant now as he was when the film was made in 1976. We still have plenty of people in America who think fame can be found pulling the trigger of a gun, and when we’ve got filth working to set up “celebrity boxing matches” with George Zimmerman, it is obvious that Schrader and Scorsese’s deliberately outrageous film has been lapped by reality. In a world like this, you tell me… is Travis Bickle a tragic hero, defined by the one good thing he accidentally does, or is he a villain, just another angry marginalized voice looking for something he can never have?


See also…

Heroes vs. Villains: Where does ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Walter White fall?
Heroes vs. Villains: Where does Michael Corleone from ‘The Godfather’ fall?