Dysfunctionality in rogue cinematic characters is an important element of rogue cinema. Rogue films magnify the unusual, especially within the characters of the film.
Dysfunctionality represents the abnormalities that are present within everyone, which are conventionally seen as socially unacceptable. Rogue films, however, highlight these abnormalities as the intriguing and unique characteristics of each individual’s existence. Society demands normative, conformative behavior because that structure works best for controlling groups.
Travis Bickle, the main character from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, is a representation of dysfunctionality. Not only is his character dysfunctional, but so is his place in society. Travis is portrayed as a product of his environment because he is a war veteran. Although it is clear that Travis is suffering from some kind of mental illness, there is no apparent resource, or functional inquiry, provided for people like him. Is he just a bad seed or has the system failed him? Has the harsh reality of society made him this way? Unlike any other archetypal villain, Travis is not evil. It is through his isolation that Travis’s dysfunction worsens. This isolation is not chosen. Travis tries again and again to reach out to other people, but his abnormal behavior pushes others away, particularly in regard to Travis’s relationships with women. Travis tries to reach out to women in a misogynistic way, which, again, may be a circumstance of his sexist environment. Travis tries to personally reach out to the cashier at a pornographic theater without realizing the social implications of this situation. Travis also tries to reach out to a political activist, named Betsy, with the only justification being that he felt they had a connection and, “That gave me the right to come talk to you.” Betsy, in turn, calls Travis a “walking contradiction.”
This situation can be compared to those who commit mass murders in their local schools. It is clear that Travis is sick, but no one in society is selfless enough to help him. No one shows Travis any empathy. Thus, he spirals into his psychosis, where he begins to believe his isolation is a result of his inherent superiority. Travis begins to hatefully reject others because of the repeated rejection he received. Travis states: “I believe that someone should become a person like other people,” yet he cannot, to his increasing frustration, seem to achieve this goal. As Travis falls deeper into his neurosis, he refers to more and more people in dehumanizing terms. Travis is not a sympathetic character because he uses his ostracism and lack of social development to elevate himself above everyone else. Even Iris, a child prostitute, asks Travis, “What makes you so high and mighty?” This misplaced egotism and narcissism makes him dislikable, yet the viewer is stuck inside Travis’s head. Martin Scorsese forces the viewer to deal with Travis’s dysfunctionality. This is a rogue choice by Scorsese because he forces the viewer to experience discomfort and antipathy. Conventional directors would not want their audience to feel discomfort because they would not want to risk their profits. Scorsese, however, is purposefully trying to elicit a response from his audience. Rogue directors do not only want their audience to feel something, but they want their audience to analyze why they felt that way. This is why Scorsese gave Taxi Driver an ironic ending. After all of the revulsion the audience developed for Travis’s character, Travis is a hero in the end. This plot twist forces the viewer to consider their perspective of Travis. Is the viewer’s perspective as distorted as those who called Travis a hero? If Travis is a hero for the people in his community, does it make the viewer as narcissistic as he was to look down at him? These are the identity questions that dysfunctional characters raise. Not only does a dysfunctional character confront the viewer with their personal distaste, but it confronts the viewer with the root of that distaste. The viewer will either become a person that blames Travis’s mentality on the coldness and the apathy of the world, or the viewer will be the kind of person that will explain Travis’s behavior as a fundamental flaw. No answer is offered to comfort the viewer because rogue films are not about comfortability. Dysfunctionality is a reality in human life that can be rationalized, but there is no clear answer as to why a person makes the decisions they do. This uncertainty is a defining characteristic of rogue films, especially when the audience shares the experience.