The gradual decline of society, unhinged moral compasses, sleazy reality. One man against the rest of the world. Loneliness, the silent killer.
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver paints a world that is sadly not strange to us.
We, like the New York taxi cabs, are trying to find our place, our destination amidst the chaotic reality. Or maybe some of us are like Travis Bickle, the anti heroes in our own stories, trying to recover from our loneliness while losing our minds in the process, believing we can save the world, fix broken lives while letting our own get shattered soundlessly.
Travis, like Tyler Durden from Fight Club or Elliott Alderson from Mr.Robot is glum with the way things are, media and celebrities making us want to buy things we don’t need, the government and corporations making us pawns in their game of chess, social media advertising us as a product in the market, all of these things destructing our purpose of existence, and making us give in to the bureaucracy.
These anti heroes are drowning in their own forlorn world, convinced that they are destined to change the system. Maybe it’s just the loneliness driving them to prove themselves to the world, to make others acknowledge their existence. The end sequence in Taxi Driver, where Travis is shown being celebrated as a hero, being finally appreciated is a testimony to that fact. Had he succeeded in his attempt to assassinate Palantine, the media would have presented him as a deranged anti-national. After all, the media shows us what it wants us to believe. It sells, we buy. Consumerism is literally consuming us, every hour of every day, trapping us into a chasm while we go on believing that it’s the best for us.
“What is it about society that disappoints you so much? “
“Oh I don’t know, is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children?
Or maybe it’s just that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit; the world itself’s just one big hoax. Or is it that we voted for this?”
Maybe people like Travis get so sick of the world; they start living in a fugue state, like Tyler and Elliott. They detach from reality, thinking that they can change the reality. Ironic, isn’t it?
Travis is aware of the fact that he’s lonely, much like Tyler, who finds his escape in a fight club by venting out his anger and gaining a sense of purpose, or like Elliott, who is just one among the thousands of employees at E Corp, being choked by bureaucracy and political games.
“You talking to me? Then who the hell else are you talking to?
You talking to me? Well I’m the only one here.”
(Travis says this as he looks into a mirror)
This scene implies just how lonely he is. It makes us feel sorry for him, but there’s a strange sense of fear too, as we see him descend into madness.
These complicated characters represent our deteriorating society. They don’t realize the magnitude of their actions, the impending consequences. What is it that drives them to go for it anyway? Is it just sheer will to revive the morality? Is it because they believe they will only be accepted and appreciated in the society they create? Or is it just because they are lonely and need a change not only in the society but also in their own lives?
These vigilantes’ desire to bring a change does connect to us indeed. We realise that we are living in a similar society, the walls are crashing down and there’s a need for a radical change. But unlike them, maybe we are too afraid of losing our control over the Elliot within us and giving way to Mr.Robot instead. These stories appeal to us not only because we connect to them, but also because these characters do what we aren’t able to, putting on the anti hero mask and bringing down the society, even if it ends up changing their own nature.