Robert De Niro recently drew a comparison between Travis Bickle, the character he played in the 1978 movie Taxi Driver, and presidential candidate Donald Trump:
“One of the things to me was just the irony at the end, he (Bickle) is back driving a cab, celebrated, which is kind of relevant in some way today too…People like Donald Trump who shouldn’t be where he is so…God help us.”
The irony is that the character Bickle himself, though crazy and violent, is also thought of today by many people as a kind of anti-hero—part of a whole slew of vigilante-styled characters of that time period played by people like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson.
It was not, I assume, the intention of neither De Niro or director Martin Scorsese to elevate such a figure to be idol-worshipped. But perhaps it’s just another manifestation of Poe’s law—that what starts as a “liberal” satire meant to parody undesirable aspects of society ends up being taken seriously by a more fundamentalist segment of the population.
And this made me think of John Hinckley Jr., Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin who was released from an institution a week ago. Hinckley attributed some of his motivation for the shooting on Taxi Driver & its young star Jodie Foster, upon whom he became obsessed.
What starts out as a critique of violence in society inspires more of the same.
The character Bickle himself was based on real-life would-be assassin Arthur Bremer. Bremer shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972.
George Wallace, who was left paralyzed by the shooting, was known for his highly controversial views on race and other issues. These days, his name is most often evoked in comparison with Donald Trump—some suggesting that Trump is “a modern day George Wallace.”
And so, I guess, we oddly come full circle.