The facts that are presented to the spectator about Travis Bickle in the most general sense do paint a portrait of a certain level of pathology. Travis Bickle is a decorated Vietnam veteran, and appears to suffer from PTSD. The spectator also quickly learns that Travis does not have many friends: he's socially very isolated and this appears in part to be connected to the fact that he has trouble starting and maintaining friendships.
The spectator learns very quickly that Travis Bickle is given to disturbances in his judgment and perception, as well as in his decision-making process. In fact, the very reason he takes a job driving a taxi, thus bestowing the film with its very title, is because he has trouble sleeping (suffering from insomnia, a common symptom of PTSD). Bickle claims that he got lonely just walking around so he thought that getting a job working nights would make him feel less lonely. Another person without Bickle's pathology might have taken up a hobby, or gone to single bars, or other group activities in order to meet people. However, Bickle chooses to drive a cab: in this sense his meetings with people are limited, mostly one on one, avoid face-to-face eye contact, and there's a transactional imprint on top of the entire meeting.
As the film progresses, the spectator watches the exact pathology of Bickle further unfold and the darker sides of his personality begin to emerge: he can act angry and hostile to people, engaging in paranoid behaviors with a strong focus on revenge. Much of his thought process seems to revolve around the need for controlling his life in a more regimented fashion, along with clearly delusional thinking about the world and his place in it. A focus towards violence and a preoccupation with violence is a common thread in his behavior.
The most accurate diagnosis of Travis Bickle would be that he suffers from schizotypal personality disorder. According to research which looked at the most unwavering characteristics of individuals who have this type of disorder, it was found that, one of the overwhelming characteristics of the condition is that defense mechanisms play an overwhelming role in the schizotypal personality disorder" (Perry et al., 2013).Travis Bickle clearly demonstrates these tendencies. His paranoid behavior motivates many of his actions. Much of the behavior that he engages in within his apartment demonstrates a strong degree of unusualness. For example, the thought processes and subsequent actions that Bickle engages in alone in his apartment demonstrate truly skewed thinking. For example, the viewer watches Bickle place his hand over the flame of a candle in order for himself to feel the pain of the burn, supposedly, so that he can become stronger and more desensitized to pain, one would assume.
The sheer loneliness of Bickle's behavior is a truly common aspect of schizotypal personality disorder. Schizotypal personality disorder has even been found to have overlaps with Aspberger's Disorder in that they both have disorganization in the social-interpersonal and communication areas of the brain (Hurst et al., 2007). This very accurately describes Bickle's behavior. Bickle has a great deal of trouble in relating even to other taxi drivers that he meets and quickly alienates Betsy after just one date with her. The clear inability to relate to other people is demonstrated in the sense that Bickle thought that Betsey would be fine in watching a dirty movie with him; rather it quickly makes her uncomfortable and she wants to terminate the date. In fact one could even make the case that Bickle is unable to pick up on the facial cues that Betsy gives off that she is uncomfortable: successful social interaction is dependent on the ability to decode the facial expressions of others, an aspect of social cognition that people with this disorder have consistent problems realizing effectively (Sugranyes et al., 2011).
Support for the Diagnosis
A tremendous amount of Bickle's life is characterized by social isolation, which is a major condition of the schizotypal personality disorder. His life is very narrow: he drives a cab, he lives alone, he hangs out at pornographic movie theatres.The fact that Bickle chooses pornographic films demonstrates his deep loneliness: he wants to watch the deepest form of intimacy two human beings can share. However, this movie choice isolates him even further from other people, as he's most likely just going to encounter other loners at such movies. The three lonely spheres of existence that Bickle moves from is consistent with the basic traits of schizotypal disorder which often bear common characteristics of adult attachment disorders marked by social isolation, overprotection and self-insulation (Berry et al., 2007). One can thus make the argument that the loneliness that Bickle is able to sustain is something which helps maintain his own pathology and the symptoms of his disease.
Furthermore, this loneliness is also typified by a certain disconnect that Bickle demonstrates towards the rest of the world. There's a lack of sympathy or camaraderie that Bickle demonstrates towards other people; it's strongly characterized by an "us vs. them" attitude which is demonstrated in the following voiceover in the film: "Thank God for the rain, which has washed away the garbage and the trash off the sidewalks…All the animals come out at night. Whores, skunk-pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies. Sick, venal. Someday a real rain'll come and wash all this scum off the streets…"
Aside from demonstrating an intensified disconnect with other human beings (for example, another human being might have the same repulsion for these low-lifes, and others might have sympathy for them, others might want to help them), Bickle demonstrates a certain level of contempt for these people. His contempt has a certain degree of pathology to it, in that it seems characterized by what psychologists call "magical thinking." Bickle alludes to the idea that someday "real rain'll come and wash all this scum off the streets," though one can only imagine what Bickle means when he says "real rain": he might be referring to a shower of bullets, the hand of God, or both.
As the movie continues, the spectator is given privilege in watching the silent pathology that goes on in Bickle's apartment: his violence becomes organized and prepared. Bickle stands around bare-chested and attaches guns to himself, practicing drawing them in front of a mirror while the rest of his apartment bears posters of the politician Charles Palantine. Bickle manufactures a fast draw mechanism along with a concealed knife: the weapons are treated as extensions of his body and he demonstrates a tremendous dexterity in using them. The most iconic sequence of the film, where Bickle stands in front of a mirror, alone in his apartment and says, " You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? (He turns around to look behind him.) Well, who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here. Who the f -- k do you think you're talkin' to? Oh yeah? Huh? OK. (He whips out his gun again.) Huh?" (filmsite.org, 2013). While this might be one of the most famous sequences in the film, it demonstrates a tremendous amount about his current pathology: it shows Bickle's magical thinking and his delusions in confronting imagined attackers. It also demonstrates a strong disconnect in his ability to recognize himself and his difficulties in separating fiction from reality. This moment not only points to what is to come (the extreme violence that acts as the climax for the film, but it foreshadows how Bickle's preoccupation towards violence, paranoia, delusional thinking, social isolation and tremendous disconnect from others have all culminated into an extremely dangerous personality.