Religion & Purification In Taxi Driver

2295 words - 9 pages

"He's a profit and a pusher.
Partly truth partly fiction.
A walking contradiction." - Kris Kirstofferson

In Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle repeatedly expresses two ideas that are central to the film. First, Travis has an undying wish to purify the world. He wants to rid his city of all the evil and scum that currently inhabits the city's cold and damp streets. Second, is the method by which Travis tries to obtain his goals. Travis Bickle tries to clean up his city by methods similar to those of religious figures. He even takes on a role as a savior figure. Travis Bickle's quest to save the world via religious ideas fails, and instead results is a bloodbath.

The first place where we are introduced to the theme of scum inhabiting New Youk is in the very first frame of the film. Here, we see nothing more than steam billowing out of a sewer. This image is repeated in almost every scene. Perhaps Jack Kroll said it best, "Out of a cloud of steam, hissing and spuming from a manhole, the snout of a New York taxi emerges" (Kroll 186). The ooze that seeps through these sewers is exactly what Travis wishes to rid his world of. In his mind, he is enveloped by the hell filled with the scum and filth that surrounds him.

The viewer need not look farther than Travis's first monologue in order to see his innermost thoughts on the city. His journal acts as an outlet for these often crude yet telling feelings. "Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and the trash from the sidewalk... All the animals come out at night. Whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies... Someday a real rain will come and wash this scum off the streets." This rain that Travis speaks of evokes images very similar to those found in religious texts, specifically, Noah's ark and the flood. Travis wishes to be Noah; he wants to have all the sleaze whisked away, and a new world started with only the people that he deems fit. Much like Noah, he believes that he will be saved, while everyone else in the world perishes from the torrents of water. Later in the film, Travis feels compelled to take action against this sleaze. He wants to help purify the world by eliminating the sleaze by whatever methods he deems appropriate. Even if this means killing his fellow man, then so be it.

Another instance where we see Travis revert to this theme of purifier is when he first meets Betsy. The childish scrawl in his diary tells the story. "I first saw her at Palantine headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angle. Out of this filthy mass. She is alone. They cannot touch her." In these few choice words, Travis Bickle again reemphasis the recurring religious references. In this specific instance, Travis's first words about his new love interest are, "She was wearing a white dress." White is traditionally a color used to represent purity. In Travis's eyes, Betsy...

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