Body Language Analysis of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
When he enters the taxi stop to take a job as a taxi driver, he keeps his hand behind his back. This is called the regal stance, often used by royals and aristocrats that displays a “keep away” look. He probably does it because he doesn’t consider the taxi employer respectable. When the employer asks Travis about his military record, Travis’s head furrows, possibly triggering unpleasant memories as a member of the army.
He enters a movie theatre that presents adult films, he tries to make a move on a woman at the counter selling refreshments but she doesn’t seem to be interested. He takes up space by putting his right hand forward, displaying dominance but the woman seems uninterested. He insists to find her name but the woman threatens to call the manager to which Travis immediately moves back and put his hand in the air. This way Travis is taking up a submissive position and seems less threatening.
He pushes a man away that appears to be disoriented at the deli entrance. The way Travis pushes the individual away, he extends his fingers instead of using the palm. Travis wants to maintain that distance between himself and the individual because he’s disgusted by the individual, he suspects the individual to be a drug abuser. When he enters the cafe, he makes sure he keeps his belonging near his friend rather than taking that seat up, he prefers to maintain a distance from them as well. His hands appear to be closed when he sits eventually opening up when he talks about what he heard over the radio.
When he asks Betsy out, he constantly maintains eye contact. He leans closer when he compliments her, reducing the distance between them to increase intimacy. He takes up space on the table by putting his palms across it, this is a position that displays dominance and authority and is considered a territorial display. He even explains himself through hand movements like showing Betsy what’s on her table. He slightly covers his left hand over the right, this might be to comfort himself when he felt nervous while asking Betsy out for coffee. Even when he leaves, he maintains eye contact, this is significant because it implies intimacy between the two of them.
In the coffee shop, something incredibly subtle is Travis’s hand movements that can’t exactly be seen in the frame but he seems to be fiddling with them when he asks Betsy out to a movie. This again is a sign of nervousness and individuals often do this to comfort themselves. However, as soon as Betsy smiles, Travis stops fiddling with his fingers, exhibiting his nervousness disappearing.
He confronts Betsy and Tom tries to shove him out the door, Travis immediately reacts with Kokutsu Dachi stance which is a Shotokan karate type style. The Kokutsu Dachi is a defensive stance that stores energy in the hind leg for a counterattack. This works and scares Tom.
Travis is seen scouting the area where Palantine will be campaigning. He immediately moves into arms folded over chest stance when he stands beside the secret service man as he tries to grab his attention. However, this is a failed mirroring effect as the arm placement is different compared to that of the secret service man. He leans in and asks him “what kind of guns do you carry?” Travis fakes his smiles constantly throughout the conversation. At the end of the conversation, he shakes hands with the secret service man with his left hand. This is usually a sign of an insincere promise in America.
Where Travis imagines a hypothetical situation and acts it out in his room, he repeats the question “you talking to me?” over and over. As if someone’s talking to him. It is important to note that Travis is doing this while he looks at Palantine’s poster and the city map, giving subtle hints of his plan. He holds his arms close to his chest, people often do this behaviour in a public space and rarely at home. Individuals behave in such a way at home when they’re being bothered by something.
He then goes to meet Iris and to meet her, he has to get through Matthew aka Sport. During his conversation with Sport, Sport describes what Travis could do to Iris, Travis disgusted by this, subtly steps away from Sport. Throughout the conversation, Travis is gradually seen increasing his distance from Sport. People often lean back or step away when they find something unpleasant during a conversation.
After the entire shoot-out and killing Iris’s timer, he tries to shoot himself thrice in the head but there aren’t any bullets in the gun. He sits down on the couch heavily and leans his head back. The cops arrive and Travis notices them, he imitates a gun with his bloody hand and tries to shoot himself thrice. This scene depicts nothing other than his mentally ill behavior, which is not shocking.
The film revolves around Travis, a literal walking contradiction. He calls the streets of New York scummy and full of filth but then indulges in it by watching adult films. He decides to eat better but drinks cola constantly, has liquor with his breakfast and pops pills all the time. Travis is a ticking time bomb that might blow up any time. The ending of the film shows Travis being hailed as a hero and saving Iris from her previous life. No one knows that he tries to assassinate a presidential candidate. He is then seen, driving around the streets of New York with the same attitude, learning nothing and filled with rage. Finally, was it all real? According to Paul Schrader, the screenwriter for the film, he believes it is reality. You can even notice Travis’s bullet scar when he is talking to his friends at the taxi stand.