Taxi Driver - What Does The Ending Really Mean?

Why Travis Bickle can't live happily ever after.

Taxi Driver Robert DeNiro
Columbia Pictures

Martin Scorsese's 1976 classic Taxi Driver is oft considered to be one of the finest films ever made, releasing in the midst of one of America's most violent decades. The seventies, dubbed the 'Decade of Nightmares' by historian Philip Jenkins, was also equally famous for being a fine period for cinema, with the works of Francis Ford Coppola, Alan Pakula, and Scorsese all tapping into a zeitgeist audiences themselves were struggling to reconcile with.

Scorsese's opus, Taxi Driver, was perhaps the best film to do this, with leading character Travis Bickle (played to perfection by a young Robert De Niro), having drawn direct inspiration from Arthur Bremer, who had attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace four years prior. (Bickle's character would then, ironically, inspire John Hickley in his attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan - but that's besides the point.)

Audiences themselves have, however, struggled to reconcile Bickle's status as an anti-hero - a disturbed vigilante left frustrated upon his return from Vietnam - with the film's own ending. Interpreted in a literal sense, Paul Schrader's script ends with Bickle emerging as an out and out hero, having survived his confrontation with those in the brothel to wide acclaim in the public's eye, going so far as to even rekindle his relationship with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) before he spots something in his rear-view mirror, where the cycle seemingly begins anew.

That final shot of Travis, however, is meant to cast doubt on the supposedly 'happy' resolution. Was he truly heralded by the public upon his release? Did he even survive the shootout in the first place? It might not look so clear in the end, but when you piece the clues together, it's easy to see that Bickle's fate was a tragic one - no matter the interpretation.

Comics Editor
Comics Editor

WhatCulture's very own Comics Editor. Cats, comic books and spaghetti westerns are my thing. Talks about stuff @EwanRuinsThings