Why Travis Bickle’s Savior Complex Didn’t Help

The Martin Scorsese film taxi driver was released in 1976 and centered on a Vietnam veteran trying to reintegrate into modern society. Travis Bickle struggled with loneliness and declining mental health while working as a cab driver in New York City. The film served as a social commentary on the aftermath of PTSD suffered by many veterans. Unlike other films about the war, such as apocalypse now, taxi driver provided insight into the psychological aftermath of its survivors.


Robert De Niro played Travis, a 26-year-old honorably discharged US Marine. Because the character received no psychological evaluation or help from the military before being thrown back into society, he had not developed healthy outlets for his trauma, leading to his fixation on certain individuals for distraction. He wanted to be a hero so badly that he developed a savior complex and got involved in situations that were not sane or his responsibility.

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in the taxi driver, Travis interacted with two female characters whom he interpreted as needing help. One was a woman named Betsy who had volunteered for a senator’s presidential campaign. They hit it off and he asked her out, putting her in an incredibly awkward situation and significantly sabotaging himself. Betsy refused to speak to him after the event and he couldn’t accept that his actions were to blame. Instead, Travis blamed the world and politics and plotted to kill the presidential nominee to get her attention.


As Travis prepared for the assassination, it became clear to audiences that he glorified violence. His trauma made him believe that brutality was the only thing he could control and he believed he was using his training for good, to save or help others. This became particularly prevalent when he failed to kill the contestant and shifted his focus to a 12-year-old prostitute, Iris, with whom he had interacted a few times around town. She claimed life in the brothel was better than the life she had led at home. He seemed focused on rescuing her from her pimp, to the point where he actually went on a violent rampage.


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At the end of taxi driver, shot Travis through the brothel. He was covered in blood and bruised as he sank onto the couch next to the crying, traumatized girl. He then turned the gun on himself and tried to pull the trigger, but he was out of bullets. Travis’ attempt to end his life proved that he was acting out of a selfish desire to leave the world a hero. He wanted to save the young girl and this should be his last moment because nothing else motivated him to continue.

There is a significant fan theory that Travis actually died on the couch, making the next sequence more symbolic of his savior complex. The story jumped to the near future where the young girl had returned to her family and had sent letters to Travis telling him that she was back at school and doing well. He continued to work as a taxi driver, where he picked up Betsy and she recognized his heroism by stopping the pimp. After she exited his cab, he saw his reflection in the mirror and was horrified by what he saw.


embrace the theory that taxi driver‘s final moments didn’t happen, confirming Travis’ delusions about his behavior. He hadn’t received the proper care after returning from the war with significant trauma, so he developed a savior complex to distract himself from his inner turmoil. While he focused on saving the women he encountered around town, he managed to ignore his sanity as much as possible. Whether the ending sequence was fantasy or reality, that final moment of looking at himself in the mirror revealed that nothing about him had really changed. Being a savior didn’t fix him.


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