Taxi Driver

Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Taxi Driver. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Travis achieves some catharsis through the purging of criminals’ blood in the climactic slaughter scene.  Though he remains a loner with psychopathic tendencies, he’s no longer obsessed with the details of the immoral activities on the street, and he’s able to interact with Betsy without stalking her.  Whereas earlier he complains: 
TRAVIS V.O.:  Twelve hours of work and I still cannot sleep.
At story’s end, he tells Betsy:
TRAVIS:  I just sleep more, that’s all.
His infamy has changed him from a misfit into a media darling and hero.

Main Character Growth

Travis needs to stop being God’s policeman—obsessing over the kind of people he dislikes doing their thing, on the streets of New York City or in the back seat of his cab—and get a life of his own.

Main Character Approach

When he can’t sleep nights, Travis goes out and gets a job driving taxis; attracted to Betsy, he walks into her office and volunteers in order to be near her; seeing a stick-up man holding up the deli, he shoots him; feeling down, he goes to Wizard for advice; etc.

Main Character Mental Sex

When Travis decides to act on the idea of “True Force” that’s been building up in his brain, he gets “organezized” and breaks the job down into steps: he buys an arsenal of guns; he does physical exercise; he practices at the shooting range; he clips articles on Palantine; he practices drawing his weapons; he cuts his hair into a Mohawk; etc.

Story Driver

Travis’ decision to become a taxi driver, especially one who will work anywhere, exposes him to lowlife “scum”:
PERSONNEL OFFICER:  We don’t need any misfits around here, son.
TRAVIS:  You kiddin?  Who else would hack through Bed-Sty or Harlem at night?
PERSONNEL OFFICER:  You want to work uptown nights?
TRAVIS:  I’ll work anywhere, anytime.  I know I can’t be choosy.
(Schrader, p. 5)
Travis’ decision to pursue Betsy leads him to volunteer; Betsy’s decision to go to a porno movie with Travis makes her reject him, which in turn ramps up his alienation; Iris’ choosing of Travis’ taxi to seek refuge in brings her and Sport to Travis’ attention; Sport’s decision to pay Travis with the “dirty” $20 bill leads Travis to pay back the “wages of sin” with death; etc.

Story Limit

Travis first seeks fulfillment in a woman, Betsy.  When that fails, he goes to Wizard for counseling.  When he has no answer, Travis can’t take it any more and seeks an outlet in violence, trying to kill Palantine.  This option fails and he wreaks mayhem on those in the pimp business, finally running out of options when surrounded by police.

Story Outcome

Travis succeeds in making progress in his mission to clean up the streets by killing Sport and his cohorts, and by getting Iris out of prostitution and back to her parents in Pittsburgh.  As the Screenwriter notes:
“The slaughter is the moment Travis has been heading for all his life, and where this screenplay has been heading for over 100 pages.  It is the release of all that cumulative pressure; it is a reality unto itself.  It is the psychopath’s Second Coming.”
(Schrader, p. 117)

Story Judgment

While Travis is still a lonely guy, and one with psychopathic tendencies, at story’s end he is a more relaxed taxi driver.  He’s no longer writing dangerous thoughts in a diary, has elevated status amongst his peers, and is a hero to the media.  He’s even able to accept Betsy for what she is, “a star-fucker of the highest order,” and no longer has the desire to stalk her.  But his last desperate glance at her in the rearview mirror begs the question—for how long?

Overall Story Throughline

""Cleaning Up the Streets""

Overall Story Throughline

All the characters are concerned with the level of crime and corruption on the streets of America’s cities: Travis wants to flush the streets of “filth and scum, scum and filth”; Wizard and the other drivers are worried about attacks on cabbies; Sport and Iris depend on the unchanging situation for their lifestyle; Tom wants to push the issues that will change society, while Betsy wants to push the man—Palantine, who offers only empty promises in order to get elected:
PALANTINE:  I know what you mean, Travis, and it’s not going to be easy.  We’re going to have radical changes all throughout city and municipal government.
(Schrader, p. 40)

Overall Story Concern

Betsy and Tom are involved in drumming up more and more support for Palantine as the election approaches; like Travis, they are concerned with improving society; the sign in the campaign HQ window reads “Only 4 More Days Until Arrival of CHARLES PALANTINE”; Travis develops in stages toward becoming an assassin; etc.

Overall Story Issue

A sign in the taxi garage reads: 
Fellow taxi drivers ask Travis if he has a gun:
DOUGH-BOY:  You carry a rod?  You need one?  [...]
WIZARD:  I never use mine.  But it’s a good thing to have around the house.
(Schrader, p. 25-26)
Travis assures Betsy she’ll be safe going for coffee and pie with him:
TRAVIS:  It’s just to the corner, mam.  In broad daytime.  Nothing can happen.  I’ll be there to protect you.
(Schrader, p. 30)
Palantine surrounds himself with Secret Service Men; Sport provides protection for Iris; etc.

Overall Story Counterpoint

Betsy feels sexually threatened by Travis’ choice of a porno movie for their date; afraid of Sport, Iris tries to escape in Travis’ cab; the Secret Service Man senses danger in Travis, takes his address and tries to get his photo; Sport perceives danger in Travis, figuring him for a cop; etc.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Security vs.Threat

Betsy finds Travis too dangerous and stops seeing him, which launches him in attack mode.  Though he’s no match for the Secret Service Men protecting Palantine, Travis is able to carry out his threat on Sport and his cohorts.  As American history has proven, there’s no protection from a crazed loner with a gun.

Overall Story Problem

The process of government is failing to keep the streets safe and clean.  Travis comes up with his own alternative process—killing the offenders.  Sport has his own seductive process for keeping Iris content in prostitution, slow dancing with her and telling her how much he needs her.

Overall Story Solution

Palantine’s winning the Primary allows him, Tom, and Betsy to move on to the Presidential election; Travis’ putting an end to Sport’s operation “saves” Iris from being exploited.

Overall Story Symptom

Betsy’s standing out from the crowd in her white dress causes Travis to become infatuated with her; Travis sees Palantine as a factor in Betsy’s dumping him and starts to stalk him; Travis believes Sport to be the reason Iris can’t escape prostitution; etc.

Overall Story Response

Travis somehow believes that effecting the death of Palantine and/or Sport will result in an inner peace for him; he mistakenly believes that removing another glib candidate from the Presidential race, and some pimps from the street, will make a significant change in society; Palantine and his supporters, Betsy and Tom, believe his winning the elections will result in a better society; the young man in the taxi who has a problem with “The Pussy and the .44” expects his wife’s violent death will make him happier; etc.

Overall Story Catalyst

While Travis insists that “Swedish Marriage Manual” is a respectable movie, Betsy breaks off with him when she witnesses the lurid truth; Travis is encouraged by the truth he recognizes in Palantine’s statement:
PALANTINE:  I know what you mean, Travis, but it’s not going to be easy.  We’re going to have to have radical changes.
TRAVIS:  Damn straight.

Overall Story Inhibitor

Travis’ appraisal of Betsy diverts his attention away from the crime on the streets:
TRAVIS:  She appeared like an angel out of this open sewer.  Out of this filthy mass.  She is alone:  they cannot touch her.
(Schrader, p. 21)
Doughboy tries to get Travis to occupy his time with selling a treasured memento of Errol Flynn’s bathtub; Travis’ respect for Wizard’s opinion leads him to seek his help for his problems; Travis tries to shoot himself after the slaughter, due to low self-esteem; etc.

Overall Story Benchmark

Palantine’s speech mongering promises solutions to society’s problems, as his election gets closer and closer; Travis at first believes that:
TRAVIS:  Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.
Later, he gets another notion of how things will go:
TRAVIS:  An idea had been growing in my head for some time.  True Force.  All the king’s men cannot put it back together again.
After he gets “organezized,” Travis looks forward to assassinating Palantine:
TRAVIS V.O.:  June 11.  Eight rallies in six more days.  The time is coming.
(Schrader, p. 80)

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

“Taxi Driver ushered in a new era of graphic moviemaking as social criticism.  Paul Schrader’s screenplay depicts the ever-deepening alienation of Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle, a psychotic cab driver who obsessively cruises the mean streets of Manhattan.  [...]  Taxi Driver is a seamless and provocative portrayal of the nightmarish disintegration of a wounded American psyche.”
(Video blurb, Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1987.)

Overall Story Backstory

“In the early seventies, the system seemed out of control—it could not hold the loyalty of the public.  As early as 1970, according to the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, “trust in government” was low in every section of the population.  And there was a significant difference by class.  Of professional people, 40 percent had “low” political trust in the government; of unskilled blue-collar workers, 66 percent had “low” trust.  [...]  Undoubtedly, much of this national mood of hostility to government and business came out of the Vietnam war, its 55,000 casualties, its moral shame, its exposure of government lies and atrocities.  On top of this came the political disgrace of the Nixon administration in the scandals that came to be known by the one-word label “Watergate,” and which led to the historic resignation from the presidency—the first in American history—of Richard Nixon in August 1974.”
(Zinn, p. 529-30)

Main Character Throughline

Travis Bickle — Taxi Driver

Main Character Throughline

Travis endlessly drives his taxi, anywhere, anytime:
TRAVIS:  I work a single, which means there[‘s] no replacement—no second man on the cab.  Six to six, sometimes eight.  72 hours a week.  [...]  Sometimes 76 or 80.  Sometimes I squeeze a few more hours in the morning.  Eighty miles a day, a hundred miles at night.
(Schrader, p. 34)
He finds purpose in his life in his endeavor to clean the streets of crime.

Main Character Concern

Travis wants to get organized, but to no particular effect; he passes the time by going to porno movies he has no interest in; he takes long work shifts to keep busy; he lacks a sense of purpose in his life.

Main Character Issue

Travis sees himself as the true savior, gifted with insight from God; he tells the Secret Service Man he’d make a good agent, able to discern suspicious looking people; he has a special comprehension of girls:
“TRAVIS:  Well, Iris, I look at it this way.  A lot of girls come into my cab, some of them very beautiful.  And I figure all day long men have been after them:  trying to touch them, talk to them, ask them out.  And they hate it.  So I figure the best I can do for them is not to bother them at all.  So I don’t say a thing.  I pretend I’m not even there.  I figure they’ll understand that and appreciate me for it.
It takes Iris a moment to digest this pure example of negative thinking:  I am loved to the extent I do not exist.”
(Schrader, p. 102)

Main Character Counterpoint

Travis seeks wisdom from the experienced Wizard, but gets only a trite answer about fitting in:
TRAVIS:  That’s just about the dumbest thing I ever heard, Wizard.
WIZARD:  What do ya expect, Bertrand Russell?  I been a cabbie all my life, what do I know?  I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
(Schrader, p. 75)
Iris tells Travis she understands her situation and options as a prostitute completely, but that’s not an acceptable answer to him.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Enlightenment vs.Wisdom

Unable to make sense of the world surrounding him, Travis tries to tap into the experience of others around him, but gets no help.  From the worldly Palantine, he seems to get confirmation of what he believes God wants him to do: effect radical change.  The special insight afforded by an insane mind dominates in the absence of any wisdom.

Main Character Problem

Travis feels pulled toward the very sickness and violence he professes to abhor; he gets organized, working toward becoming a killing machine:
TRAVIS:  May 29, 1972.  I must get in shape.  Too much sitting has ruined my body.  Twenty-five push-ups each morning, one hundred sit-ups, one-hundred knee-bends.  Total organization is necessary.  Every muscle must be tight.
(Schrader, p. 60)

Main Character Solution

Travis feels that the impact created by his killing Palantine will somehow satisfy him:
TRAVIS:  The idea had been growing in my brain for some time.  True Force.  All the king’s men cannot put it back together again.
(Schrader, p. 66)

Main Character Symptom

Travis can get no peace from his body:
TRAVIS:  Twelve hours of work and I still cannot sleep.  The days dwindle on forever and do not end.
(Schrader, p. 15)
He seeks solace in the all-night porno theaters; he keeps sending Betsy flowers, even though they come back, unable to accept that life with Betsy is over.

Main Character Response

Travis’ efforts are funneled into ending the lives of the deli robber, Palantine, Sport (thus ending Iris’ life of prostitution), and finally, himself.

Main Character Unique Ability

A genius in his own mind, Travis tries to get Iris off the streets by impressing upon her his version of her reality:
TRAVIS:  But you can’t live like this.  It’s hell.  If you ain’t sick now, you’ll soon get hooked or die or something or another.  Girls need protection.
TRAVIS:  That fellow “Sport” looks like a killer to me.
(Schrader, p. 98)
Travis gives Palantine the benefit of his peculiar wisdom regarding street cleaning, but the “We are the People” candidate doesn’t take him up on it.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Travis can’t keep his thoughts to himself at Palantine’s first rally, alerting the Secret Service Man to his suspicious demeanor:
TRAVIS:  Is it hard to get to be a Secret Service Man?
TRAVIS:  I kinda thought I might make a good one.  I’m very observant.
(Schrader, p. 79)
His thinking that Betsy would play the record for him on her player gives her cause for pause.

Main Character Benchmark

Once he’s failed to get the girl of his dreams by buying her records and flowers, Travis moves into acquisition mode as part of his plan as God’s lonely man: he obtains a cache of weapons from Andy, he struggles to achieve control over his body, he collects info on Palantine’s activities, and finally takes some lives.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

“TRAVIS BICKLE, age 26, lean, hard, the consummate loner.  On the surface he appears good-looking, even handsome; he has a quiet steady look and a disarming smile which flashes from nowhere, lighting up his whole face.  But behind that smile, around his dark eyes, in his gaunt cheeks, one can see the ominous stains caused by a life of private fear, emptiness and lonliness [sic].  He seems to have wandered in from a land where it is always cold, a country where the inhabitants seldom speak.  The head moves, the expression changes, but the eyes remain ever-fixed, unblinking, piercing empty space.
Travis is now drifting in and out of the New York City night life, a dark shadow among darker shadows.  Not noticed, no reason to be noticed, Travis is one with his surroundings.  He wears rider jeans, cowboy boots, a plaid western shirt and a worn beige Army jacket with a patch reading, “King Kong Company, 1968-70.”
He has the smell of sex about him:  sick sex, repressed sex, lonely sex, but sex nonetheless.  He is a raw male force, driving forward; toward what, one cannot tell.  Then one looks closer and sees the evitable [sic].  The clock spring cannot be wound continually tighter.  As the earth moves toward the sun, Travis Bickle moves toward violence.”
(Schrader, p. 3)

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Leading an empty life as a taxi driver and disgusted by the city’s lowlifes, Travis Bickle tries to relate to a woman—but fails.  Driven by a sense of religious righteousness, he attempts political assassination—but fails.  Desperate to clean up the city, he succeeds in murdering some pimps and rescues a teen prostitute—but fails at suicide.  Recovering from his injuries, he’s hailed by society as a hero.

Main Character Backstory

Travis has a spotless record, as far as fitting into society goes:
PERSONNEL OFFICER:  How’s your driving record?
TRAVIS:  Clean.  Real clean.  As clean as my conscience.
PERSONNEL OFFICER:  Listen, son, you gonna wise crack, you can leave right now.
TRAVIS:  Sorry, sir.  I didn’t mean that.
PERSONNEL OFFICER:  Physical?  Criminal?
TRAVIS:  Also clean.
TRAVIS:  Twenty-six.
TRAVIS:  Some.  Here and there.
(Schrader, p. 5-6)

Influence Character Throughline

Betsy — "Star-fucker"

Influence Character Throughline

Betsy has co-worker Tom twisted around her little finger, toying with his affections; she puts Travis on the spot, inquiring about his view (or lack thereof) of Palantine:
“Betsy is interviewing Travis, but she is also teasing him a little, leading him on in a gentle feminine way.”
(Schrader, p. 28)

Influence Character Concern

Betsy is fascinated with powerful men like Palantine, but only for the duration of the campaign she’s a volunteer for:
BETSY:  After this job, I’m looking forward to being alone for a while.
(Schrader, p. 32)
She’s interested in slumming it with the sexually dangerous Travis, but puts an end to the game when he attempts intimacy.

Influence Character Issue

Betsy considers every man who passes her desk in terms of his desirability; She contemplates the taxi driver who’s staring at her and Tom, prompting Tom to go and investigate; She wants to know what Travis thinks of Palantine and what he stands for; She ponders Travis’ invitation to have coffee with him; etc.

Influence Character Counterpoint

Betsy knows what it takes to get a candidate elected, and to her it’s pushing the man not the issues—she accepts Tom’s idea that they’re selling mouthwash.  She’s also aware that she’s being taken to see a “dirty movie” by Travis, but goes ahead anyway.

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Thought vs.Knowledge

An intelligent, capable woman who should know better, Betsy allows her lusty thoughts of Travis as a poor woman’s Palantine—a powerful, sexy guy who knows what he wants and goes for it—to overshadow what she knows: that he’s crude, unsophisticated, and dangerous.

Influence Character Problem

Finding Tom inadequate as a love interest, Betsy dismisses him with sarcasm and compares him to a two-fingered paper boy; her seeking of more dynamic mates who are out of range—far above or far below her on the social scale—makes her unhappy and lonely.

Influence Character Solution

If Betsy’s appraisal of Travis’ quirks and liabilities were more accurate—after all, she did see him stalking her—she would avoid an unsuitable suitor; or, if she accepted Travis’ movie choice as a one-time faux pas, she might get “edumacated” as she sucked on Travis’ Ju-jukes.

Influence Character Symptom

Betsy is dedicated to a political cause—Charles Palantine—and the campaign is the center of her life.  When she takes time out for RnR with Travis, she soon realizes her mistake and abandons him for Palantine again.  Sucked into the campaign as the fan of Betsy, Travis comes into conflict with the two men in her life, Tom and Palantine.

Influence Character Response

As Palantine’s advocate, Betsy concentrates on the end result of getting him elected as President, where he’ll be able to clean up the streets by legislative methods.  Travis has the same outcome in mind, but intends to use more direct means of achieving it, getting the idea to assassinate his rival Palantine when he becomes involved with the same woman, Betsy.

Influence Character Unique Ability

Betsy knows exactly what she wants in a man, which leads to her dismissal of Travis when he doesn’t fit the profile.  Their romantic interlude ends, and Travis goes back to his problem, the process of cleaning up the streets.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

We Are The People—in the audience—and if only we could talk to Betsy about Travis.  Where she picks up the scent of sexuality, we smell a rat; when she’s reminded of a poetic “walking contradiction,” we recall the manic-depressive; while she’s flattered by his “lonely and unhappy” insight into her personality, we detect projection of his own feelings.  If only she would “Thimk” more deeply and comprehend the “True Force” acting on Travis, she would never get involved; but she lacks that insight.

Influence Character Benchmark

There’s a saying that behind every great man is a great woman, and both of Betsy’s heartthrobs achieve greatness in different ways.  She’s there at every step of Palantine’s campaign, helping transform him from senator to President—even seated next to him as he speaks at the podium.  She inspires Travis’ reincarnation as an assassin, though is blissfully ignorant as he stalks her candidate. She’s fortunately absent as he wreaks carnage, reappearing after his transformation into hero is complete.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

“CAMERA FAVORS BETSY, about 25, an extremely attractive woman sitting at the reception desk between two phones and several stacks of papers.  Her attractions, however, are more than skin deep.  Beneath that Cover Girl facial there is a keen, though highly specialized, sensibility:  her eyes scan every man who passes her desk as her mind computes his desirability:  political, intellectual, sexual, emotional, material.  Simple pose and status do not impress her; she seeks out the extraordinary qualities in men.  She is, in other words, a star-fucker of the highest order.  Betsy handles her job with confidence and ease.  Whether answering phones, giving instructions or directing traffic, she remains the calm center of her hurly-burly world.  Nothing threatens her.”
(Schrader, p. 16)

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Betsy, a powerful woman working in a lowly assistant’s job, prefers powerful men like Palantine to her amusing but dull colleague, Tom.  When Travis shows her he’s a go-getter, she’s strangely intrigued by him—until he shows the sophistication of a 15-year-old when it comes to dating.  She retreats behind the protection of good old Tom, and concentrates on the campaign.

Influence Character Backstory

Betsy comes from a background of:
“America’s chosen youth:  healthy, energetic, well-groomed, attractive, all recruited from the bucolic fields of Massachusetts and Connecticut.”
(Schrader, p. 16)

Relationship Story Throughline

""Betsy Loses It (Her Cool) at the Movies""

Relationship Story Throughline

Betsy’s a believer in law and order, and change through electoral process—committed enough to be organizing canvassing efforts—and believes society will be better once Palantine is President.  Travis doesn’t follow political issues much.  He believes that a President should clean up and flush out the mess in the city, and even prefers vigilantism—taking the law into his own hands.  He believes porno movies are relaxing; she has a hard time looking at them.

Relationship Story Concern

Betsy’s immediate response to Travis’ taking her to a porno movie is shock, which in turn triggers confusion in him:
BETSY:  But these are dirty movies.
TRAVIS:  No, these are the kind that couples go to.  They’re not like some others.  All kinds of couples go.  All the time.
(Schrader, p. 44)
These differing points of view prompt Betsy’s impulsive response:
BETSY:  Taking me to a place like this is about as exciting as saying “Let’s fuck!”

Relationship Story Issue

“Betsy handles her job with confidence and ease.  Whether answering phones, giving instructions or directing traffic, she remains the calm center of her hurly-burly world.  Nothing threatens her.”
(Schrader, p. 16)
Her confidence is, however, shaken a little by the strange Travis, who reminds her of:
BETSY:  That song by Kris Kristoferson, where it says, “he’s a prophet and a pusher, partly truth, partly fiction, a walking contradiction.” 
(Schrader, p. 34)
Travis approaches Betsy confident that she, like him, is a lonely person who needs a friend.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

Betsy’s worried enough to wonder about Travis:
BETSY:  Why has that taxi-driver been sitting across the street without moving, staring at us?
(Schrader, p. 18)
Travis diffuses Betsy’s concern about going for coffee with him by offering to protect her; Betsy’s apprehension about Travis’ choice of movie proves to be well-founded.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Confidence vs.Worry

Betsy’s confidence that Travis has the extraordinary qualities she desires in a man causes her to ignore her concerns brought about by Travis’ assumptions:
“TRAVIS:  I thought maybe you could play it for me on your player.
Betsy’s face backtracks a bit.  This is the first indication she has had that she may be getting in a little too deep with this fellow she does not know.”
(Schrader, p. 43)
Letting her confidence take the upper hand over her worries gets her into trouble at the movies.

Relationship Story Problem

Betsy’s fascinated by Travis without being sure why:
“Betsy doesn’t quite know what to make of Travis.  She is curious, intrigued, tantalized.  Like a moth, she draws closer to the flame:”
(Schrader, p. 29)
BETSY:  Travis, I have never met anybody like you before.
He expects to go to her place, to play the record, on their first date:
TRAVIS:  I thought maybe you could play it for me on your player.
Betsy accepts Travis’ assurances that the movies are not dirty:
TRAVIS:  No, these are the kind that couples go to.  They’re not like some others.  All kinds of couples go.  All the time.

Relationship Story Solution

If Betsy listened to Travis’ answers to her questions, she would realize earlier that:
BETSY:  We’re just two very different kinds of people, that’s all.
He doesn’t know the person or politics of Palantine, the man he’s volunteering to help; Travis agrees with his stand on welfare, whatever it is; he claims his stereo is broken; etc.

Relationship Story Symptom

Travis thinks that buying Betsy gifts and flowers will endear her to him; that getting her into a porno theater will somehow turn Betsy on to him; that physically holding her back will prevent her from leaving in a taxi, etc.

Relationship Story Response

Travis thinks that being with Betsy will end loneliness and bring happiness to both of them; that giving her an unopened record will result in being invited to hear it at her place; that sending her flowers will result in her changing her mind about him; etc.

Relationship Story Catalyst

Travis feels that while Tom’s energies are in the wrong place, his own are not, making him worthy to approach Betsy; he thinks he has something to offer to Palantine’s campaign; when their relationship’s over, he downplays the value of his vigilantism:
TRAVIS:  Oh, I got over that.  It was nothing, really.  The papers always blow those things up.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Travis has a fantasy image of Betsy as an untouchable angel, which disappoints him when it later proves true in his case; he believes exposing Betsy to instructional sex movies will bring her closer to him, but it ends their relationship; he buys into Betsy’s story about being ill, not wanting to believe it’s over.

Relationship Story Benchmark

When Travis first sees Betsy, he’s moved down to his righteous roots, comparing her to an angel; he successfully appeals to the basic drives of companionship and happiness in an effort to woo her; Betsy’s desire to be with a “star” leads her to date the enigmatic Travis; his libido runs rampant, prompting him to take her to a “dirty movie”; she responds, ending Travis’ dating career, by lashing out with crude language herself.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

The alienated Travis sees beautiful Betsy as an angel sent from heaven: together, they won’t be lonely and he’ll have someone to spend his money on.  He volunteers to work for her, and convinces her to go for coffee with him.  She’s intrigued enough to go on a movie date with him.  But he chooses a porno movie, alienating her from him.

Relationship Story Backstory

Both Travis and Betsy have impossibly high expectations in a potential mate.  Betsy’s:
“[...]  eyes scan every man who passes her desk as her mind computes his desirability:  political, intellectual, sexual, emotional, material.  Simple poise and status do not impress her; she seeks out the extraordinary qualities in men.  She is, in other words, a star-fucker of the highest order.”
(Schrader, p. 16)
Travis looks for his ideal woman to give him a sense of direction:
“TRAVIS:  I do not believe one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, but should become a person like other people.  [...]  I first saw her at Palantine Campaign Headquarters at 58th and Broadway.  She was wearing a yellow dress, answering the phone at her desk.
Suddenly, out of the congested human mass, IN SLOWING MOTION, appears the slender figure of Betsy in a stylish yellow dress.  The crowd parts like the Red Sea, and there she is:  walking all alone, untouched by the crowd, suspended in space and time.
TRAVIS:  She appeared like an angel out of this open sewer.”
(Schrader, p. 20-21)

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

Making progress in the goal of cleaning up the city streets and removing crime from them concerns everyone in Taxi Driver.  Betsy and Tom achieve it through Palantine’s reform efforts; Sport and Iris make efforts not to be entrapped by cops, which would curtail their livelihood; Wizard, Doughboy, and Andy own guns in readiness; Palantine represents the civilized, sane approach, while Travis takes direct vigilante action.

Overall Story Consequence

If the “scum and filth” is not washed away—by a righteous rain of vengeance or otherwise—city residents may become inured to the crime and corruption all around them, and accept it as normal.  This may lead to exploitation of more “Irises” by other “Sports.”

Overall Story Cost

Tom must endure the humiliation of not being taken seriously by Betsy, and acts macho to win points with her; Palantine must tell the voters what he thinks they want to hear; Travis suffer the indignities of being a taxi-driver:
TRAVIS:  Each night when I return the cab to the garage I have to clean the come off the back seat.  Some nights I clean off the blood.
Travis has to act like a “john” to get to see Iris, and must endure her professional sexual advances.

Overall Story Dividend

Tom takes satisfaction in physically asserting himself against Travis; Palantine’s speechifying to the people pays off in his Primary victory; Andy benefits financially from selling guns to Travis; vigilantism pays off in a fitter body and more sleep for Travis; etc.

Overall Story Requirements

Travis needs to get fit, disciplined, and armed in order to perform as an assassin; Palantine must win the confidence of voters to win the Primary, and win that before the Presidential election; the Secret Service Men must be able to identify potential assassins in order to protect Palantine; etc.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Travis must develop a taste for killing in order to perform as an assassin; he must convince Sport that he wants some “action” with Iris in order to lower his guard, while suppressing his disgust; the Secret Service Men must be ready to sacrifice themselves for their charge.

Overall Story Preconditions

Travis is transformed from disgusted loner to optimistic suitor and back, fueling his rage and bloodlust; his hope dies along with the returned flowers; he must turn his body into a killing machine.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Travis’ acquisition of an arsenal of guns indicates his intent and capability of killing; his getting a Mohawk haircut warns that he’s not to be messed with, he’s going over the top and is preparing to die; buying a card for his parents indicates a final goodbye; the effortless taking of a robber’s life demonstrates ruthlessness; etc.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

We meet Travis—dealing with the daily grind of driving a taxi and not sleeping, putting up with the “scum and filth.”  We meet Betsy—and Tom, struggling with the day to day operations of Palantine’s campaign.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Present to Progress

Frustrated by failing to woo Betsy and disgusted by the street scum, Travis prepares for his mission from God.  Flattered by Travis’ praise, Palantine seeks the common man’s advice.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Palantine gears up for the Primary, making TV appearances.  Travis makes no progress in his advice-seeking from Wizard; Travis gets organized—getting his body in shape, training with guns he bought from Andy, etc.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Progress to Past

Inspired by Palantine’s talk of “radical change,” Travis prepares to stalk him.

Overall Story Signpost 3

Tom points out Travis to Betsy at Palantine’s rally, reminding her of their short-lived past relationship.

Overall Story Journey 3 from Past to Future

Distressed by his failure to kill Palantine, Travis slaughters Sport and those in the pimp business instead, “rescuing” Iris.

Overall Story Signpost 4

In their Letter From Pittsburgh, Burt and Ivy Steensma are optimistic about daughter Iris’ future, and invite Travis to visit them; Palantine wins the Primary, and Betsy looks forward to the election in 17 days time.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Travis gets a job—driving a taxi and acquiring an attitude toward “the scum”; he sees Betsy, the object of his desire, and gets a “sense of direction, a sense of someplace to go.”

Main Character Journey 1 from Obtaining to Learning

Sickened by the “filth” he encounters on the job, Travis discusses security with his fellow taxi drivers.  Encouraged by Betsy, he ventures on a Date Night.

Main Character Signpost 2

Travis learns that pornos are not always good date movies.  The Wizard Speaks—but Travis learns nothing from him.  Travis does learn that guns are readily available.

Main Character Journey 2 from Learning to Understanding

Devastated by Betsy’s rejection, Travis turns his attention to Iris—and to Palantine.

Main Character Signpost 3

Travis grasps the meaning of Betsy’s rejection:
TRAVIS:  I realize now how much she is like the others, so cold and distant.  Many people are like that.  Women for sure.  They’re like a union.
Travis makes Iris understand he wants to save her, not make it with her, while not understanding that she’s content with Sport.

Main Character Journey 3 from Understanding to Doing

Despairing but convinced that:
TRAVIS:  My whole life has pointed in one direction.  I see that now.  There has never been a choice for me.
Travis prepares to meet his maker, saying goodbye in letters.

Main Character Signpost 4

Feeling the need to act as God’s Lonely Man, Travis attempts to assassinate Palantine but fails, then performs the senseless slaughter on Sport and his cohorts instead.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

Betsy explains to Tom her plan of pushing Palantine’s image rather than his issues—selling mouthwash.  She challenges Tom to come up with a way to light a match using only two fingers.

influence Character Journey 1 from Conceptualizing to Conceiving

Bored with baiting Tom, Betsy’s stimulated by Travis’ sudden appearance.

Influence Character Signpost 2

Betsy tries to conceive of how Travis will fit into the campaign as a volunteer, but finds he only wants to date her.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Conceiving to Being

Disgusted that the Swedish movie’s not by Bergman, Betsy runs out on Travis, taking refuge in a taxi.

Influence Character Signpost 3

Betsy feigns fatigue and illness—a 24-hour virus or something—in order to escape further contact with Travis.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Being to Becoming

Impressed by Travis’ display of True Force, Betsy seems in awe of him.

Influence Character Signpost 4

In the final taxi ride, Betsy’s speechless at the change in Travis’ demeanor that her throwing him over has indirectly brought about.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

Travis recalls how he has driven by Betsy’s office and notices she’s lonely, and offers to be her friend.

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Memory to PreconsciousIntrigued by Travis' forthright behavior, Betsy agrees to meet him for coffee.
Relationship Story Signpost 2

Travis’ instincts tell him he and Betsy were made for each other:
TRAVIS:  I felt that when I walked in, there was something between us.  There was an impulse that we were both following.  [...]  Did you feel that way?
BETSY:  I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Preconscious to Subconscious

Travis fascinates Betsy as a walking contradiction, and she succumbs to his offer of a movie date.

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Travis takes Betsy to a porno movie, revealing the chasm between them when it comes to expressing desire:
“Compared to the movies he sees, this is respectable.  But then, there’s something else, too:  deep inside, he really wants to get her into that porno theater.”
(Schrader, p. 44)
BETSY:  Taking me to a place like this is about as exciting as saying “Let’s fuck!”

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Subconscious to Conscious

Betsy votes two thumbs down to Travis’ movie choice, but thumbs up to his vigilante behavior.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

As Travis takes Betsy for a taxi drive, there is the implication that each considers renewing their relationship, but it never makes it past a passing fancy.

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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