A Comparison of ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Dog Day Afternoon’

A Comparison of ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Dog Day Afternoon’

Penology refers to a section of criminology that practice and philosophy of societies and how they try to repress criminal activities. The study looks at the effectiveness of the adopted strategies of repressing the activities through fear of a punishment. Historically, societies relied on capital punishment to instil fear in potential criminals reducing their activities. The extreme measures taken against offenders were highly criticized leading to modern theories on punishment including classicism, positivism, and radicalism. The three theories are different but offer better alternatives in criminology sector especially when it comes to identifying the causes of criminal behaviour and the appropriate solution. This paper compares two films in relation to positivism, classicism, and radicalism.

Case study 1

The movie ‘Taxi Driver’ revolves around Travis, a taxi driver, an ex-marine and Vietnam War veteran. He complains of insomnia even after a long day at work. He has unique qualities, characterized by him being a loner with string stands when it comes to what is wrong or right for human beings. One of his priorities is saving Iris. Iris is a prostitute who happens to be twelve years who Travis believes wants out of the business. Travis believes that the city is full of impurities that need to be removed. This makes him plan an attack on Senator Palantine, a candidate, although he was unable to assassinate him. Sport is a barrier to saving Iris from prostitution, and Travis opted to kill him as a solution. Other crimes that Travis commits is killing a black man who tries to steal a store. At the end of the scene, Travis is praised for being a hero after saving Iris.


Positivism, a modern theory of punishment hold that the most appropriate approach to exploring crime is scientific method. According to positivism, adverse societal conditions or mental illnesses cause crime. Personal characteristics, for instance psychological defects in combination with social situations such as dysfunctional families, cause criminal behaviour (Welch 87). Using this theory it would be easier to understand why Travis engaged in the criminal behaviors. In the movie, Travis complains of being unable to sleep even after having a working day. This condition could have been brought by him being part of the Marine and Vietnam War. He could have been exposed to various scenarios that destabilized his mind causing insomnia. Apart from being a loner, he finds it hard to socialize with other people suggesting that he has a mental problem. In the movie, Travis sending letters to his family lying about his whereabouts and how he is doing. This means that he has a dysfunctional family. The formative experiences might have a produced a predisposition to criminal activities in Travis.

The earlier approaches to understanding criminal behaviour could pronounce a harsh punishment probably capital punishment for Travis for the criminal behaviors. Such an approach would be wrong as it would not prevent such crimes from happening. Understanding the real cause of a behaviour is more effective in eliminating a problem. One clear thing is that Travis has a mental as well as a social issue. In fact in the movie he wishes that he was able to fit with other people. In another incident he storms in Palantine Office where he confronts Betsy in public. These acts show that he is suffering from psychological issues. Capital punishment for Travis would prevent him from such crimes. However, it won’t prevent other potential criminals from doing the same. Imprisoning him would be of help too as it would only worsen his mental stability issue increasing his chances of committing a crime again.

The positivism theory assessed the primary cause of crime and proposed the removal of societal characteristics that caused individuals to commit a crime as a means to commit a crime. The proponents study the regularities if crime rate where human factors were discovered as major elements of discovering the irregularities towards finding factors that cause crimes. The results showed that it was possible to predict a criminal’s behaviour based on the social concepts and characteristics that one was exposed to. The findings made the researchers propose the elimination of characteristics that seemed to be causes of crimes as the only mean of preventing criminal activities (Welch 87). The societal organization can lead to crimes, therefore controlling such organization reduces crimes.

For the case of Travis, changing the societal organization would not solve the problem. It would however, reduce the potential criminal activities in the society. Reducing or eliminating causes of crimes will definitely reduce the criminal activities. However, as positivists propose, criminals require rehabilitation programs as a means to prevent re-occurrence of criminal activities. With the improvement of medical technology, criminals were rehabilitated with the incorporation of advanced medicine as a correctional treatment. Psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatrists facilitated the rehabilitation process through the transformation of the offender into a law-abiding individual.

Rehabilitation process would be very effective for Travis, as it would heal the mental problems that even prevents him from sleeping. He would be able to socialize with other people as normal people do. Travis would also be able to re-unite with his family for moral support. Such a process would turn him into a law-abiding citizen. Travis victims were also criminals as seen at the end of the movie where he is treated as a hero. However, he still needs to be mentally stable to avoid taking the law into his hands or even hurt other innocent people. The film shows the importance of positivism theory in criminology as it advocates for identification of factors causing crimes and how to remove them for a crime-free society.


The desire to remove corporal punishment that needed beating the devil out of a criminal figuratively and literally during the ancient time, ked to classicism theory. The medieval time was characterized by the use of torture to secure criminal confessions, or sin and execution as a means to maintain authority over subjects. However, in the mid-eighteenth century, the age of reason emerged. The enlightenment period promoted democratic values and secularism on criminals, a challenge to the approaches of the royal power and religious process. Theorists advocated for a humane justice system. In the attempt to understand why some people commit a crime, theorists proposed that criminal act of their own free will. Classicism led to an effective framework for punishing, sentencing, and for criminal justice that is more principled. Beccaria Cesare one of the prominent figures in classicism theory condemned the use of death penalty, torture among other arbitrary penalties. Beccaria held that people committed crime through their own free will. He therefore proposed the use of a certain and swift penalty which is not severe enough to become a deterrent as a means to discourage crimes. Instead of execution and corporal punishment, Beccaria proposed imprisonment whose length is determined by the seriousness of a crime. This led to sentence individualization, a progressive mark in urging courts to implement justice restraint. According to Beccaria, preventing crime through proportionate penalty to committed crime without prejudice is effective than punishing it. Bethany Jeremy also believed that people act out of their own free will motivated by self-interest. He advocated for imprisonment and other penalties that would act a warning to potential criminals and to the criminal being charged.

For our case study, Travis out of his own free will plan to execute Palantine, a plan that failed. He then chose to kill the young man who attempts to steal from a store and received an applause from the store owner. The reason behind the shooting could be to examine whether he was able to use the weapons. Travis had been practising how to use the weapons at his home. With the frustration of the failed plan of executing the candidate, Travis confronts Sport and ends up killing him. The purpose of the killing was to save Iris from the prostitution business. However, there was another motive behind committing the crime. Travis had tried to win Betsy win no success and new that saving Iris would earn him some favour with Betsy. Therefore, Travis out of his own free will and out of self-interest, chose to commit the crime. At the end of the movie, Travis is treated as a hero for saving Iris. However, according to proponents of Classicism, there was a need for punishing Travis for the crimes he committed to maintaining order in the society. The punishment would have been swift and certain but not severe for Travis. Such a punishment would also act a warning to other potential criminals in the city. It is true Travis saved people from being harmed by Sport and therefore, the praising he got from the community is in order, however, we cannot ignore the fact that he had other self-interests in committing the crime. Therefore, a punishment would serve better for Travis and prevent potential criminals from disrupting social order for their own self-interests.


Radicalism perspective in crime and corrections focuses on the role of the social context in which an individual is living. Radical criminologists argue that the economic, and political inequality, as well as racism lead to criminal activities. To reduce such crimes therefore calls for social justice. Alleviating poverty among other social problems that affect poor people in the community such as drug abuse would reduce crimes. Radicalism is concerned with employee exploitation, and the underclass who live without economic gain. The theory assumes that a capitalist society is characterized by repression, domination, and conflict. The inherent conflicts of capitalist social organizations motivate people into committing a crime.

Travis an ex-marine and Vietnam War veteran. Political inequalities fuel wars in the society. The desire of powerful people to dominate the poor leads to political wars. Travis having participated in the Vietnam War could have exposed him to mental torture which explains his insomnia. Apart from being unable to socialize normally with other people and being a loner, Travis complains of his thoughts that were starting to turn violent. This could be the result of the experiences that got into him during the war. Travis complains of the scum throughout the city. He is also disgusted by the dishonesty, dysfunctional, and immorality present in the city which compels him to engage in an intense physical training. This situation of the city motivates Travis to condition and arm himself for a mission of saving the city through assassination. Later he attends a public rally with one mission, to assassinate Senator Palantine but fails to accomplish it. The poor governance drove Travis into the attempted crime. It is from the frustration of a failed mission that he proceeds to kill Sport.

Case study 2

In the ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ movie, Sony Wortzik, a first time crook, together with Salvatore, and Gary tries to steal from the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. In the bank, the daily cash pickup had taken place leaving only $1,100. To compensate, Sony takes cheques of the travellers and burnt the register of the bank to avoid being traced. However, the smoke alerts the community bringing in the police. In the negotiations between Sonny and the police, his wife confesses that Sonny engaged in the criminal activity to pay for her surgery on sex reassignment as she was a transgender woman. While waiting for a limousine to take him and the friend to the waiting jet, Sonny writes a will where he leaves money from the life insurance to the wife and Angie. On their way to the airport, Sal is tricked and killed by agent Sheldon. This also led to arrest of Sonny, and the movie ends as Sonny is sentenced to 20 years as revealed by subtitles. Leon also had her surgery on sex reassignment.


As positivism theory holds adverse societal situations and mental illness causes criminal activities. Personal characteristics such as psychological and biological weaknesses and their interaction with adverse social situations such as poverty and dysfunctional family drive people into committing crimes. Applying the theory in the film, there are several elements emerging that could explain the criminal behaviour of Sonny and his friends. First, Sonny’s wife was a transgender wife suggesting that there were issues in the family. This explains the reason behind the sex reassignment surgery. If the family was comfortable, then there would be no need for the surgery. This indicates that Sonny was experiencing psychological problems. Second, there was a need for money for the surgery which Sonny lacked. Third, Leon, his wife, admitted to having attempted suicide influenced by Sonny’ abusive behaviour. The psychological weakness evidence in the abusive bahavior plus the financial strain motivated Sonny into committing the crime. If there was a legal alternative, to get the wife operated on, then Sonny and the friends could not have engaged in the crime.

At the end of the movie, the subtitles indicate that Sonny was imprisoned for 20 years. Positivism proposes that prevention of crime is better than punishing it. Imprisoning Sonny would prevent him from committing another crime in the society for the 20 years as long as he stays in prison. However, after the 20 years, Sonny would come back to the society, and if he is exposed to a similar situation where is supposed to support another person may be financial, Sonny will choose crime to achieve his mission again. However, as positivism theory suggests, taking Sonny through a rehabilitation program would train home on how to overcome his aggressive behaviour and learn how to interact with other people peacefully. He would also be trained on how to address issues that give him psychology distress such as dealing with the issue of financial strain. By being able to manage his emotions, he would be able to external factors that drove him into committing a crime and become a law-abiding person. The fact that he is a first time crook suggests that rehabilitation would be a better alternative for Sonny in bringing him back to the normal life.

While Sonny was travelling in a Limousine towards the airport, Sal was tricked by an agent to point his gun up to avoid shooting him. When Sal took the advice, he was shot in the head and Sonny was arrested. Based on the theory, it was wrong for the agent to Shoot Salvatore. Shooting him was similar to the ancient approach of corporal punishment to beating the devil out of him figuratively and also literally. This was wrong considering other alternatives had been developed over time in crime and corrections. Sonny was even made to watch the body of Sal on a stretcher. This is torture. Instead, the criminals could have been arrested and taken through a rehabilitation program that would train them on how to become a better person. Through an individualized program, criminologists would be able to transform Sal and Sonny. Fixing people to adapt to the harsh environment through rehabilitation programs prevents them from engaging in criminal activities.


Theorists interested in understanding why people engage in crimes came up with the classicism theory which holds that people break law by acting on free will (Welch 78). Theorists oppose the idea of demoniac forces compelling people to commit a crime. Instead of taking extreme measures against criminals such as capital punishment, the theorists propose a legal framework that is more principled for criminal punishment, sentencing, and for criminal justice. The Theorist argues that the most appropriate result of punishment, is preventing potential criminals from committing crimes and preventing further harm to the society. Therefore, criminals should be punished and the punishment should be strong and be able to leave a lasting impression on others but at the same time the punishment should have minimal torment to the body.

According to Classicism theory, people have a free will which enables them to choose whether to violate law or not. Before, committing a crime, criminals weigh the consequences and the benefits of that crime, if it is beneficial to them they go for it. If the benefits are less with higher risks they avoid it. In short, criminals are aware of the consequences of their choices. Sonny’s wife says in the movie that one of the reasons that drove him to the criminal activity is to provide for her surgery. Note, one of the reasons. This means that there are other reasons that drove him to the crime including greed for more money. He chooses to commit the crime for his own self-interest. First, after the sex re-assignment surgery, Sonny probably hoped to mend his relationship with Leon, his wife. The act would have covered his abusive behaviour and influence his wife into believing in him again. Second, Sonny could gain more money from the robbery. Therefore, as explained by classicism, people choose out of their own free will to commit a crime as well as out of their own self-interest as seen in Sonny. Sal could also have been motivated by the idea of gaining more money from the robbery. This explains the reason for taking checks from travellers after discovering that the available cash in the bank was little since the daily cash pickup had already taken place. This means that Sal also made a choice to engage in the crime out of his own free will and out of his own self-interest.

According to Classicism, strict measures should be taken against criminal activities to prevent re-occurrence and prevent potential criminals from committing crimes in the society.The punishment must be swift and certain. It should not however be severe causing harm to the body of a criminal. A punishment should not act as a deterrence. It should however ensure that the criminal will never attempt such activities again. And should also be fair and the imprisonment length is determined by the intensity of a crime. Sonny was imprisoned for 20 years for the crime. The punishment was certain and swift and would have a lasting effect on the mind of potential criminals. People would try to stay away from crime to avoid such jail time. The punishment would also ensure that Sonny never repeats such a crime.

However, for Sal, the punishment was so severe. The punishment was not equivalent to the crime he had committed. Shooting him was not the best solution. There are other better solutions like imprisonment that have helped Sal to avoid criminal activities and also warn others of the consequences of crimes. However, shooting him was an extreme measure that need not be taken. Executing as a punishment is going back to the ancient time when people believed in corporal punishment as a means of eliminating crime by instilling fear in potential criminals. However, this is an inhumane approach that policy makers need to eliminate. As Beccaria argues preventing crime through proportionate penalty to committed crime without prejudice is effective than punishing it. Sal’s punishment was not proportionate to the crime he had committed. Such an approach would not be effective in anyway. It just takes a way a life that would have been saved through other reasonable punishments.


Radicalism provides an alternative to criminal justice by focussing on the role of the social context in which people live in criminal activities. Social injustice is the main cause of crime. The perspective focusses on the society when it comes to crime. Social inequality motivates individuals into committing criminal activities. Looking at Sonny, the main reason why he engaged in the robbery was financial gain. If there was social equality then there would be no poverty and every individual would be able to cater for his or her needs. However, Sonny was unable to cater to the needs of his wife. The wife herself could not afford to pay for her own surgery. This indicates that there is social inequality in the society. Radical criminologists argue that unemployment and poverty drive people to commit crimes.

While radicalism does not oppose correction measures against criminals, it emphasizes that social reforms are far more effective in reducing crimes (Welch 104). A society that promotes the general concern of the citizens when it comes to their wellbeing experiences fewer crimes. This translates into a lesser need for punishment. Based on radicalism, it is fine that Sonny was imprisoned for 20 years as a correctional measure. However, changing the society by creating equal employment opportunities would be a better approach. It is social inequality that drove him into committing the crime, therefore, ensuring that there is social justice removes the causal factor of crime. The domination of powerful people in the society and the role in exploiting the poor, encourages potential criminals into engaging in crime as they seek survival. Therefore, social justice reduces crimes in the society which then reduces the need for punishment.

Work Cited

Welch, Michael, ‘Corrections: A Critical Approach’, London & New York. Routledge, 2011.