Whereas in A Man Escaped (1956) the protagonist is imprisoned literally and free metaphorically, in Pickpocket the protagonist is free literally but imprisoned metaphorically. Both their literal states then transform into their metaphorical state- as in most of Bresson's films, the soul triumphs.
Though contrary to my previous statement, Bresson does not hesitate with reality. In fact, he once stated in an interview, he is "obsessed with reality". His portrayal of objects and movements are simple, but precise, as the tangible often is. This is best depicted in an elegantly coordinated sequence a little over halfway through the film, where Michel and his accomplices pickpocket several passengers on a train. The "ballet of images", as Roger Ebert described it, was the most beautiful heist scene I have ever witnessed.
Like Travis Bickle in Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Michel suffers from loneliness and perverse societal beliefs. He uses pickpocketing as an outlet for pleasure, and becomes addicted. He thinks he is somehow better than everyone else, and uses this as an excuse for committing crime. As ignorant as he may seem, he does bring up some good points that are of philosophical interest. For instance, Michel argues with the inspector: "Can we not admit that certain skilled men, gifted with intelligence, talent or even genius, and thus indispensable to society, rather than stagnate, should be free to disobey the laws in certain cases?" Of course, Michel is talking about himself as one of the "supermen".
You can especially see personal elements of Bresson's thoughts embedded in Michel's character when Michel explains regarding his "supermen" theory, "(the world) is already upside down. This could set it right." Bresson has repeatedly declared his pessimistic view of modern cinema, and how its theatricality (namely contrived emotion and expressive acting) is ruining what cinema is meant to be.
The film climaxes at an ethereal last scene, where Jeanne, the young lady Michel was helping (also a similarity to Taxi Driver where Travis Bickle protects for Iris), visits him in prison. Michel realizes he is in love, and they touch through the bars that separate them. He narrates, "Oh, Jeanne, what a strange way I had to take to meet you!"
The key to Bresson's style is transcendentalism. While he provides what happens, he forces the viewer to use their imagination to answer why it happened. For example, we are left in the dark on why Michel avoids visiting his ill mother. He works on the ironic, yet genius philosophy: if you bore the viewer enough, they will become entranced. I had to watch Pickpocket twice to fully come to terms to his uncompromising methodology, and even now I'm still struggling to describe the experience of watching a Bresson film with words.
I will say this though: it's freaking hilarious how the pickpocket never locks his own door.