Travis Bickle’s attempt to assassinate Senator Charles Palantine is an integral part of his downfall in Taxi Driver, but his motivation for the plan isn’t entirely clear. Palantine’s presidential campaign is a running thread throughout Taxi Driver. Travis’s love interest, Betsy, is a volunteer working on the campaign, and he first asks her out — and later furiously confronts her — at the campaign office. At one point, Palantine even rides in Travis’s cab when he’s in too much of a hurry to wait for his limo. As his sanity deteriorates and the “bad ideas” in his head bubble to the surface, Travis decides to kill Palantine.
Martin Scorsese’s neo-noir thriller has been praised as one of the greatest movies ever made. It received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. In the wake of the success of the vigilante thriller Death Wish, there were a bunch of similar movies in the ’70s. But Taxi Driver set itself apart by not endorsing vigilantism, instead presenting the dark reality of Travis’s attempts to take the law into his own hands. When Travis buys a gun and begins his vigilante crusade, he starts attending Palantine’s rallies to scope out their security and plot a political assassination. But why Travis wants to kill Palantine isn’t explicitly apparent.
Palantine Represented A System That Travis Hated
After returning from Vietnam with PTSD and insomnia, Travis was disgusted by the crime and debauchery he started witnessing on the streets of New York while pulling all-nighters as a cabbie. He sees 12-year-old sex workers on street corners, washes blood and semen off his backseat at the end of every shift, and dreams of the day when “a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” Eventually, Travis, the quintessential antihero, has had enough and decides to become that rain himself. He picks up a gun on the black market and goes after the city’s criminal population, which, he determines, includes its elected officials.
Travis believes Palantine symbolizes the corrupt system he wants to bring down. As far as Travis is concerned, politicians like Palantine are no better than pimps like Sport. They’re only interested in serving themselves and fail to keep their campaign promises once they’re voted into office. Eliminating a presidential candidate full of false hope and empty promises is a major step in Travis’s plan to wash the scum off the streets. Fortunately for Palantine, Travis isn’t quick enough on the draw, and the politician’s security guards spot him, so he flees the scene.
Travis’ Vendetta Against Palantine Was Tied To Betsy
Travis’s desire to kill Palantine, and his attempted assassination in one of Taxi Driver’s most iconic moments, weren’t entirely motivated by his ideologies; he had a twisted personal reason for wanting Palantine dead. Travis still resented Betsy for rejecting him, so he was desperate to get back at her. Attempting to assassinate the politician she supported was an extension of his resentment toward her. Betsy admires Palantine as an “intelligent, interesting, fresh, fascinating man.” Since Travis wishes she saw him that way, he naturally hates Palantine. Killing him would be the ultimate revenge against the woman who wouldn’t return his calls.
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