Poster advertising the Martin Scorcese's 1976 about a psychotic taxi driver
    In the years leading up to John F. Hinckley Jr.'s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, he became obsessed with the movie "Taxi Driver." Hinckley saw the movie at least fifteen times, read and re-read the book it was based upon, and bought the soundtrack to the film, listening to it for hours on end. Hinckley even began to model certain aspects of his life on the actions of the main characters. Most importantly, Hinckley developed an intense obsession with an actress in the film, Jodie Foster.

    PLOT: The film stars Robert DeNiro as the main character, Travis Bickle, a violent taxi cab driver alienated from society. Bickle becomes interested in a woman named Betsy who works for a presidential candidate, and tries to attract her attention, but is unsuccessful. Rebuffed by both society and the object of his affection, Bickle decides to assassinate the presidential candidate so that he may win Betsy's admiration. He is never able to get close enough to the candidate, however, to complete his assassination attempt. Bickle then becomes interested in saving Iris, a young prostitute played by Jodie Foster. He goes to the hotel where twelve-year-old prostitute brings her customers, and shoots her pimp, the hotel manager, and a client, rescuing Iris from the horrible environment. At the end of the movie, Travis Bickle holds a bloody finger to his temple, acting like a man who is blowing his own brains out. In the context of the movie, however, it is a gesture of triumph. Travis Bickle is a hero.

    IDENTIFICATION: One of Hinckley's defense experts at trial, Dr. William Carpenter, Jr., stated that John Hinckley identified in many ways with Travis Bickle and "picked up in largely automatic ways many [of his] attributes." Hinckley began to imitate Bickle's preference for army fatigue jackets and boots, and developed a fascination with guns. He adopted Bickle's preference for peach brandy and, like the movie character, began keeping a diary. According to Carpenter, Hinckley's isolation from society and vulnerability led him to unconsciously begin to mimic Bickle's traits. In Carpenter's words, Hinckley "absorbed the identity of Travis Bickle." Carpenter even believed that when Hinckley took a bus cross-country from Los Angeles, Washington was merely a stopover on his route to Yale, and another attempt to "rescue" Jodie Foster as the film script demanded.  

    The prosecution contended that Hinckley merely "imitated" Travis Bickle, much like a fan of a rock star might choose to wear the star's clothes or sunglasses.  To the prosecution, Hinckley's identification with Bickle was conscious, not unconscious.

    Hinckley probably saw a lot of himself in the psychotic Travis Bickle.  More importantly, he may have seen in the movie what he thought were clues to extricating himself from his lonely, alienated state.  In the movie, Bickle's violence is rewarded.  

    LYNN COLLINS: Hinckley also fashioned a make-believe girlfriend named Lynn Collins on Betsy's character in "Taxi Driver." Just as Travis Bickle had written home to his parents about a rich and beautiful girlfriend, John wrote home about Lynn, creating vacations and visits and break-ups that were all a fabrication of his mind. Hinckley's mother JoAnn, came to feel such a warmth and connection with Lynn after several years of corresponding about her with John, (obviously John never brought her home to meet the folks), that she felt an emptiness when she was told by the FBI that Lynn Collins did not exist. Feeling the loss as though it were a close personal friend, JoAnn Hinckley was most devastated by the fact that without Lynn in his life, she could not think of a single person with whom her son had had a relationship in several years.

    AT TRIAL: "Taxi Driver" was shown by the defense during John Hinckley's trial. Hinckley's reaction to the showing of the movie demonstrated the depth of the impression it had made on him. Twisting in his chair to get a better look at the main character as Robert DeNiro's mug appeared on the screen, he was so engrossed in the movie that he watched it mouth open, eyes fastened to the screen. He took his eyes off the movie only twice. The first time was when Betsy turns Travis down for a date, after which Hinckley took off his glasses and turned his head aside. The second time John took his eyes off the movie was when Iris, played by Jodie Foster, embraces her pimp. Upon watching this scene, Hinckley buried his face in his hands. At the conclusion of the movie, the defense rested.


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