Heroes or Villains: Violence/Terrorism in the movies, “The Taxi Driver” Directed by Martin Scorsese and The Battle of Algiers Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo

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The two movies The Taxi Driver Directed by Martin Scorsese and The Battle of Algiers Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo both rotate around the theme of heroism exhibited by the main actors, but their efforts accompany violence/terrorism. In the movie “Taxi Driver,” Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a depressed 26-year-old former U.S Marine and Vietnam War veteran. The actor suffers from insomnia. Travis developed a sense of saving the world after an encounter with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) a campaign volunteer. The actor fatally shoots the robber at the store, attempts an assassination on the Presidential candidate and lastly shot Sport. In all the acts, he was seen as a hero in spite of his violent acts. Similarly, in the movie “The Battle of Algiers Ali La Pointe of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) insurgent group is hailed as a hero because of his fight against the French Army Paratroopers. The movie revolves around the incidence during the Algerian War of Independence, between November 1954 and December 1957 in French Algeria. Ali La Pointe in the movie is a hero to the Algerians, but he utilizes terrorist acts to achieve his goal. In both movies, the main actors become heroes because of their efforts to save the rest of the population, but the theme of violence arises because of their actions towards the attainment of heroism.

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Travis in The Taxi Driver became a hero because of taking a chance. Becoming a hero is not simply committing any act, with the projection of receiving accolades from the rest of the population. Taking a chance means engaging in an act, which a majority of the population is not willing to try. In the movie, Travis decides to take a chance to clean-up the society and specifically the filthiness of New York City. The character decided to take a chance, whose outcome was not clear. Travis did not have a roadmap on how his quest would follow. It was for this reason that he became a heroin in unlikely places like the convenience store and in Sport’s Brothel. For instance, Travis took a chance of attacking the robber at the convenient store. His presence at the store and the attempted robbery was coincidental. Besides, in the case of the shooting at Sport’s Brothel, Travis took a chance of engaging Sport. In this scenario, the actor could not forecast the end; it was for this reason that Sport almost killed him. Nonetheless, taking the chance helped the police and the press to hail him as a hero, for attempting to save Iris.

In continuation, Travis became a hero in the movie because of his choice of the right victims. The choice of the victim helps in elevating the character to the position of a hero or a terrorist. This fact was clear in the movie The Taxi Driver. This claim is because the main actor chose victims such as the convenient store’s robber, who was a bad character as per society standards. The heroism honor accorded to Travis by the storeowner was because the robber was likely to rob goods or take the lives of the store’s owner and or other shoppers. The fact that Travis took his chance to attack the robber made him a hero to the shop owner. Separately, Travis became a hero in the case of killing Sport, even though the circumstances were conflicting. The police and the press hailed the action of Travis because Sport as per the police and the press qualified as a gangster. In most cases, the choice of the victims is what separates the efforts of an individual as a heroic act or simply an act of violence, which should receive condemnation. Even though the actions of Travis received praise, they qualify as violent and terrorist acts.

To begin, Travis in The Taxi Driver only believes in violence/terrorism. A violent person believes that the attainment of heroism is through exerting power and pain on the victim. The belief in violent arises because of the surrounding environment and a person feeling insignificant among the crowd. Travis is suffering from depression, maybe primarily because of engaging in the Vietnam War. The main triggers of his condition include the wrongs committed by individuals entrusted with protecting the public resources. It was for this reason that the main actor attempted to assassinate Charles Palantine, a person he views as “cold.” The feeling of insignificant spurs the violence in Travis, who decides to release his frustration with intense physical training and drawing his weapons. The primary aim of the actor is to exhibit violence towards his victims.

The other sense of violence exhibited by Travis was through the choice of his victims. Likewise, to the above sentiments, the difference between being a hero and the act of violence is the selection of the victim. The terrorist act in the case of Travis arose because of the choice to assassinate Charles Palantine. Even though politicians are famous because they are rogue, the decision by Travis to assassinate the presidential hopeful was not a sign of heroism but an act of terrorism. The politician was not a direct cause for Travis’s frustration or depression, with this qualifying his acts like that of a terrorist. Terrorists believe in directing their anger towards powerless individuals to send a message to their targets. The choice of powerless victims qualifies the actor as a terrorist and not as a hero.

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In spite of the fact that the two movies The Taxi Driver Directed by Martin Scorsese and The Battle of Algiers Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo differ with their plots, similarities arise with their main characters. Ali La Pointe is a hero and he exhibits the theme of violence/terrorism. Ali La Pointe in the movie The Battle of Algiers is a hero because of taking a chance to fight the French government and the French Army Paratroopers. Ali La Pointe acted in the face of chance, where he decided to fight for the independence of the Algerian population. The outcome of the chance taken by the main actor was not clear. The main character sacrificed self to the available chance to become part of the FLN movement. The available chance in the case of Ali La Pointe was not part of any reason. That is, the occurrence of a battle in Algiers was not the main reason for Ali La Pointe to join the war, but he had an urge to liberate Algerians in an unknown time. Algerians hail the effort made by the freedom fighter to liberate the nation from the hands of the French colonialists and their sympathizers.

Besides, the heroism of Ali La Pointe in the Battle of Algiers was because of the choice of the victims. The choice of the actor to engage the French Army paratroopers was an act of heroism. Ali La Pointe’s choice of powerful victims made his action to be part of acceptable violence. This assertion is because the French Army Paratroopers were much superior (weapon and war tactics) compared to the capacity of FLN (Front de Libération Nationale). Heroism arises in the case, where the victim is a threat to the general population. Ali La Pointe’s push was welcomed among the Algerians since they considered the victim to be the main obstacle in their freedom.

Equally, to the case of Travis in The Taxi Driver, Ali La Pointe in the Battle of Algiers exhibits a terrorist’s belief. Ali La Pointe has a mind of a violent person or a terrorist, who considers carrying out heinous acts to be heroism. The environment and the feeling of insignificance also play an important role in the character of the actor. Ali is a petty criminal, who honed his violent nature in the prison. The escalation of his terrorist nature is during his time at the prison, where he receives radicalized political teachings. FLN commander El-hadi Jafar then recruits the actor. Violence would be inevitable with the radicalization of a previous criminal. The risk of radicalization is huge since a person thinks that actualizing the corrupting teachings is a road towards the achievement of greatness. It is for this reason that the actions to attain heroism in The Battle of Algiers assumed violence scenes. 

Further, still, the act of terrorism by Ali La Pointe in the Battle of Algiers was evident with his selection of the victims. The acceptable violence in the film was in the case, where the liberators attack the real enemies rather than accomplices. In the movie, the act of FLN under the leadership of Ali La Pointe to encourage an attack in Kasbah showed the wrong choice of victims. Ali La Pointe decided to use the power of coercion to force the French authorities to attack Kasbah, without a thought on the lives of the Arabs in the area. Although the French authorities were the main selection of victims, the use of the tactics by Ali La Pointe and FLN showed that the character’s main interest was to gain popularity at any cost. Ali La Pointe does not qualify as a hero because of his move to use violence against his people to gain support when fighting the real “enemy.” His choice of execution of victims is gruesome and only qualifies as terrorist acts.

The films The Taxi Driver Directed by Martin Scorsese and The Battle of Algiers Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo have some differences such as the year of shooting, the plot and the audience’s reception. However, there are similarities with the characters of Travis in The Taxi Driver and Ali La Pointe in the Battle of Algiers. Firstly, both characters become heroes in their own light from the public. The next similarity is the theme of violence/terrorism that is evident in the two characters. The belief in violence and the choice of the wrong victims quickly shifts the characters of the main actors from heroes to violence perpetrators. 

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Works Cited

Pontecorvo, Gillo. “The Battle of Algiers-Film 1966.” WketDZ. February 18 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vgoH5IPK-c

Sonny Pictures Home Entertainment. Taxi Driver. May 10 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUxD4-dEzn0

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