Rhett Breedlove

You talkin’ to me?


If we haven’t heard that famous phrase by now, us Wyomingites may have one or two things to catch up on.

But, I do in fact doubt that. We might be independent and prefer our own seclusion, but everyone has heard that famous or even infamous movie line.

Improvised by legendary Hollywood icon, Robert DeNiro, in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 neo-noir thriller, Taxi Driver, it has almost become a an American trademark of sorts.

For those who have in fact not seen the film, it is a brilliant cinematic perspective into the mind of a lost soul slowly disintegrating into violent insanity; while cementing itself perhaps as one of the greatest films ever made.

DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a man in his mid 20’s who we are immediately introduced to but know very little about. It should be noted the film quickly and strongly implies that he is a recently discharged Vietnam Veteran, as he briefly tells a half-interested potential employer of his Marine Corps Honorable Discharge. 

With this, it further begs our constant question when it comes to attempting to relate to another person. What is his story?

Right off the bat we see that Travis is definitely unusual. We just can’t quite put our finger on what kind of individual he is. He seems friendly and pleasant enough. But as he himself narrates the story from his own private journal, we immediately see that Travis has a lot of boiling resentment.

As Travis works unbelievably long hours sometimes seven days a week, he gives us in utter detail the disgusting way he sees everything and everyone on the dark streets of New York City.

“One day a real rain will come away and wash all this scum off the streets,” he tells us.

An eerie foreshadowing of things to come.

One thing that sticks immediately is that Travis is definitely a loner, and his social skills just never seem to mesh with anyone he comes into contact with.

We feel that he does have a strong longing for a pure and real human relationship, but we see him constantly being abused and rejected by the people he comes into contact with.

All the while he never seems to understand why he just can’t fit in anywhere. We know he is a Veteran, and he writes regularly to a mother and father we never meet; constantly assuring them that he has a great job working for the government and is in a wonderful relationship.

Of course we know this to be a complete lie. Obviously Travis does not want them to be aware of the empty life he seems to be living. On the other hand this mother and father he writes to may in fact be a figment of his, or our imagination.

Along the way we see him on several very interesting, sometimes painful misadventures. We see him take a beautiful young woman on a very inappropriate date, and we meet a very deranged and homicidal passenger. Finally we see an unhealthy obsession develop towards a running presidential candidate. 

The only true friend we actually see Travis develop is sadly with a child-prostitute, Iris, played by equally iconic actress, Jodie Foster.

In the midst of it all, we begin to see Travis’s anger growing disturbingly more and more. We begin to feel that this shy, eccentric, almost totally socially withdrawn young man is beginning to snap.

Then it all comes to a head with one iconic moment.

We see Travis in his filthy rundown apartment, wearing the same grungy green jacket, tight jeans and brown cowboy boots that never seem to take a break. He stares menacingly into his mirror, and directly at us as an audience.

Practicing his street taunts and intimidation with illegally bought firearms, DeNiro stares right into the camera and with the reflection of his own eyes says it.

“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Who the [expletive] else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the [expletive] do you think you’re talking to?”

Despite the scene being just a brief moment in length, the image has the power to burn itself into one’s memory and never leave. We know now that Travis has definitely lost his mind in a world of hate and greed, and there is now no turning back.

Travis would soon thereafter unleash his anger in a stirring sequence of vigilante violence and chaos.

At the same time depending on one’s perspective, we could certainly look at this iconic film villain’s descent into psychopathy with caution and even a little compassion.

We could argue all day long until the cows come home about what Travis’s problem was. Was he suffering from PTSD? No doubt that would be a fair thought. Had he been severely abused and neglected somewhere along the way? That undeniably seems like a possibility. Should he have ever been able to get his hands on firearms? Obviously not.

The one thing that seemed to stick out more than any other was the fact that Travis was incredibly socially isolated. Everywhere he turned he was given another rejection. He even says so himself.

“Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape.”

Although the film became iconic long before mass shootings even entered our thoughts, one can’t help but realize how incredibly significant it is. This especially applies when it comes to the discussion of the long term detriment of when someone is constantly isolated and rejected.

It would be fair to say that social isolation is, and has been an issue in Wyoming for a long time now. 

This sternly goes back to what we have been talking about for so long now, and why especially in a small town it is so vitally important to reach out to someone once in a while.

Most of the time, we absolutely do.

If we know that a fellow community member, friend or neighbor may be struggling with something it is almost in our nature to reach out and offer a hand.

A simple phone call, knock on the door, or as Chief Johnson without fail always takes the time to ask,“How’s life treating you brother/sister?”

Make no mistake. There is a Travis Bickle in every community.

Invite him/her out for a cup of coffee, then buy them a piece of apple pie with a slice of melted yellow cheese. As Travis would say, “I think that was a good selection.”