The days go on and on... they don't end. All my life needed was a sense of
someplace to go. I don't believe that one should devote his life to morbid
self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.
Travis Bickle (De Niro), a marine who fought in the Vietnam War is a distant and unstable young man of 26 from the Midwest. As a chronic insomniac, he becomes a nighttime taxi driver in New York Ciy. Bickle spends his restless days in seedy porn theaters and driving around Manhattan.
Bickle becomes interested in Betsy, an aide for New York Senator Charles Palantine, who is running for the presidential nomination and is promising dramatic social change. She is initially intrigued by Bickle and agrees to a date with him after he flirts with her and sympathizes with her own apparent loneliness. On the date, however, Bickle takes her to see a pornographic film. Offended, she ends the date early and takes a taxi home alone. The next day he tries to reconcile with Betsy, phoning her and sending her flowers, but all attempts are in vain.
Rejected and depressed, Bickle's obsession with violent assertiveness begins to consume him. Already disgusted by what he witnesses while driving through the city at night in his cab, he becomes increasingly paranoid and starts acting out his vigilante fantasies. He buys a number of pistols and practices a menacing speech in the mirror, while pulling out a revolver that he attached to a spring loaded "holster" on his left arm. Being psychologically attached to Betsy and angry at the world, he begins to stalk Senator Palantine.
Bickle is revolted by what he considers the moral decay around him. Iris, a 12 year-old child prostitute, gets in his cab one night to escape her impm. Later he talks to her pimp and pays for her time, although he does not have sex with her and instead tries to convince her to leave her pimp. The next day, they go have breakfast and Bickle becomes obsessed with saving her, despite her lack of interest, explaining that she was "stoned" when she tried to escape, and that her pimp Matthew, whom she calls "Sport", appears to be a kind and caring person. Travis then tries to convince her to return home to her parents and go back to school, but fails. Of Sport, Bickle says, "Someone has to do something to him...he is the lowest kind of person on earth, He is the worst...sucking scum I have ever seen.'
Bickle then attempts to assasinate Senator Palantine at a public rally. He is spotted by Secret Service men and flees. Bickle returns to his apartment, then drives to Alphabet City where he shoots Sport, before storming into the brothel and killing the bouncer the wounded Sport (who has followed Bickle), and Iris's mafiosi customer.
A brief epilogue ends the film and shows Bickle recuperating from the incident. He receives a letter from Iris's parents who thank him for saving their daughter, and the media hails him as a hero for saving her. Bickle returns to his job, where one of his fares is Betsy. She comments about his saving of Iris and Bickle's own media fame, yet Bickle denies being any sort of hero.
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