Martin Scorsese Says the “Psychological and Emotional State” of ‘Taxi Driver’s’ Travis Bickle Has Become a Tragic “Norm”

Martin Scorsese says there are now more people living with the same psychological and mental state as his Taxi Driver lead, Travis Bickle, famously played by Robert De Niro.

As part of a recent GQ cover story, the filmmaker sat down with the magazine to discuss his most iconic films, including Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York. While breaking down his approach on Taxi Driver, Scorsese shares how he considered taking the production to a different city to bring costs down, but ultimately decided there was no other taxi culture like New York’s.

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He also discussed grappling with how to portray Bickle — a young, white, depressed and lonely man whose thoughts and, increasingly, actions become more violent over the course of the film.

“We kept thinking in terms of the character and his loneliness and his acting out, not condoning the acting out, but he does act out and yet an empathy with him, which is really tricky,” Scorsese recalled. “Ultimately, what stayed with us was the psychological and emotional state of that character. As we know now, tragically, it’s a norm that every other person is like Travis Bickle.”

The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon director also discussed the reactions to his Oscar-winning film Raging Bull, and that movie’s violent male lead, also played by De Niro. While the Mean Streets helmer says the film’s team understood people didn’t like boxer Jake LaMotta, he was surprised to learn his crew felt the same way.

“We threw everything we knew into it, not knowing how it was going to be received,” Scorsese recalled. “We understood that people didn’t like him and even the crew, it turned out — I didn’t know until later — why are we making a film about this guy? He’s a horror.”

While the director acknowledges LaMotta is unsavory, he defends him as a character, before noting that he was trying to find himself in a way similar to the character.

“This man may be this way but he still is a human being. He’s got a heart. He’s got a soul. By the end of it, he finds some kind of peace with himself and maybe the others around him,” he explains. “I think I was going there to try to find piece of myself.”

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