The end of the battle “can be referred to the return of his repressed” (186) in Freudian terms. Ethan successfully kills and scalps/castrates Scar before cornering Debbie as she lies on her back, a very symbolic posture in terms of sexuality and sexism.
[The massacre’s ending] returns us to his fragmented subjectivity… [He] has effectively become that which he first railed against – hence the analogous ‘shooting’ of himself… Considered thus, his violence enacts a (failed) desire for self-annihilation, for which his suicidal gestures stand as a metonym… In a reflection of this, the massacre is, in the first place, a shockingly punitive culmination and release of the narrative’s increasing tension and violence. Following the massacre’s brutal scourging, the cut to the overhead shot constitutes a decisive distancing break in our identification with Travis, an effect compounded by the subsequent shots. These force us to contemplate the implications of our identification, the results of the phallic violence in which we have been complicit… Having encouraged then undermined identification, the film prompts an awareness of our own subjective implication in destructive attitudes and myths… [It] challenges our ideological investment in potent, violent, vengeful male heroes. At the very least, it unequivocally foregrounds the consequences of right-wing vigilantism, which the film represents as the action of an explicitly disturbed individual (186-187).
Again, if we understand that the Euro-American civilization Debbie is returned to is a racist one, we can read Ethan’s refusal to kill his niece as such an act of suicide. In TAXI DRIVER, Travis is an insane man in a relatively sane world. By contrast, I argue that Ford has created an insane world that Ethan breaks with in the end, hence his ostracism. This adds a further interesting point to this logic:
The violence similarly compromises the text’s religious connotations. It exposes Travis’s moral crusade to cleanse the city as destructive fanaticism. Like Travis’s other ‘justifications’, the text’s ‘vindicating’ religious implications are placed as more discredited misdirection. While Travis’s attempts to ‘shoot’ himself further evoke his intimations of martyrdom, his putative bid for self-sacrificial redemption has only brought the death of others (187).
This in application to the profoundly religious nature of the community Ethan has been excommunicated from carries interesting applications. Grist says that the film is a subjective one that puts the viewer into Travis’s perspective. But because THE SEARCHERS is a Classical Hollywood film, beholden to the generic forms and norms, Ford must present the viewer with an objective perspective, although the effort to do otherwise is discussed by Pye. This means that he must present viewers with a deceptive picture of a community that seems wholesome but is in fact thoroughly saturated with white supremacy and the chauvinist ideals resulting, including a loathing of inter-ethnic congress that bears the death penalty. And so unlike Scorsese, who presents a protagonist who thinks he is on a holy mission that only at the end is shown to be a blasphemy, we are presented with a protagonist in THE SEARCHERS who blasphemes throughout. This adds a profound level of mystery, in the religious sense, to the film’s ending because of the white supremacist nature of the theology that Ford is acknowledging.
The closing images of the Ford and Scorsese films are not exactly alike yet they do share a sort of “distanciation”, to use Grist’s term (187) describing how the cinematography takes a sudden objective stance that
prompts an awareness of our own subjective implication in destructive attitudes and myths… [It] in particular challenges our ideological investment in potent, violent, vengeful male heroes…[and] invite[s] us to consider the nature of a media that champions a killer and a society that sanctions such representations (187).
TAXI DRIVER has a second element to this ending, the coda scene with Travis driving away in his cab, but one can reasonably see both elements at work in the single famous aperture framing of Ethan through the doorway to the Jorgensen house. Grist argues that this ending shows nothing has changed with the protagonist and that he has a “continuing personal disjunction” (189). While in a personal setting, this means that a sociopath like Travis could and does avoid detection and necessary treatment/restraint in a society that glorifies violence, misogyny, and neoliberal economic and social norms, in the contexts of THE SEARCHERS it means that racism and the chauvinism that is attendant; its byproducts remains present in our culture. Ethan is a stand-in for a larger cultural psychology of race and racism.
In the next chapter, this psychology will be further analyzed via a close reading of TAXI DRIVER but also the rebuttal to Mannoni’s claims, written by Frantz Fanon, which reflexively can modify points made in this chapter.