More Father than Father: Paternal Archetypes and the Death of Tyrell in Blade Runner

The film Blade Runner is a fascination for me, and a film that I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing over. I wanted to share some of the work I’ve previously done on it and expose it further. It’s very interesting how many allusions are in this film. I’m going to try to deal with a few themes that I think all fit together.

Blade Runner deals with the notion of human reproduction without the necessity of sex. Indeed, Replicants seem to achieve their super human status, lending credence to the slogan “more human than human” by moving beyond both the biological and developmental need for parents.  However, to fully achieve their potential as super humans, Roy—the representative of the ultimate evolution of Replicants—must sever all parental ties for his species.  He must do this by usurping Tyrell—the inventor of Replicants—through murder. Tyrell in the dialogue preceding his death scene establishes himself as a trifecta, or trinity, of paternal archetypes. He is the Frankensteinian father, the Oedipal father, and the Heavenly (Christian) father; God.  Each of these archetypes represent a father that must be usurped by his “son.” This offers an explanation to Tyrell’s knowing, accepting, and even welcoming behavior toward his guaranteed murder by Roy.

Replicants in the film are regularly aligned with machines; there is a sense that they are a kind of robot or more mechanical than human (taken from the source material by Phillip K. Dick). I would argue that this sense of the Replicants is via their “super” humanity such that they lack womb gestation. They are biological beings that have entirely eliminated the need for mothers. However, they have yet to eliminate the need for a father. Their existence is preceded by the insemination from Tyrell’s engineering. He, like God and Victor Frankenstein, has fostered a new race with the insemination of engineering rather than the insemination of a woman. Oedipus’s father, however, impregnates a woman that Oedipus himself will later impregnate; suggesting Oedipus has usurped his own father sexually. Both Oedipus and the Frankenstein monster seek to destroy their fathers (The monster first destroys his father’s sexuality by killing his bride) in order to establish their own independent identities.  Then, to complete this trinity of analysis I recall that man, according to Nietzsche, killed God as religiosity became an inviable source of morality and philosophy. Man, in reason, had usurped the Lord.

The scene in which Tyrell is murdered is preceded by a chess game that Tyrell loses. Roy informs Sebastian of the winning move; evoking the chess-match with Death  in Bergman’s The Seventh SealTyrell has been mated by Roy’s move; implying that Roy will win over Tyrell as he attempts to defeat death.  Bergman’s film is also mirrored by back and forth shots between Roy and Tyrell with intermittent closeups that resemble the shots of the Knight and Death preceding their chess game. In Blade Runner, however, we already know the outcome. The Knight of the Replicants is pursuing triumph over death. His life is finite—as per his “father’s” engineering. Though he has beaten Tyrell at chess, he cannot undo his finite lifetime by asking his father for immortality.

Tyrell is clad in celestial white as Roy engages him for more life. He is surrounded by white bedding and candles evocative of prayers; appearing like a holy father in his church. Roy exclaims “It’s quite a thing to meet your maker” and Tyrell asks in the third person “What can he do for you?” Tyrell seems unphased by Roy’s presence and his request to elude death. Roy’s demand for “more life” is punctuated by calling Tyrell “Fucker,” which sounds peculiarly and appropriately like “Father.” Tyrell then admits freely he hasn’t the power to reverse the death-threat among his “children.” This bit of truth is strange since he could easily lie, get Roy onto a slab, and murder him instead.

Tyrell systematically reveals information pertinent to the process of “incubating” Replicants. The explanation is followed by an informative conversation as Roy makes suggestions of how to avoid the death of a Replicant by modifying it. His knowledge, while vast, is destroyed by Tyrell’s superior paternal and God-like knowledge of how he made Roy. Tyrell’s truthfulness suggests his awareness of his Destiny.

Tyrell alludes to his awareness further by dismissing his explanation as academic, evoking Nietzsche’s anxiety over the limitation of religious doctrine. Tyrell recognizes his own limitations as both God and Victor Frankenstein. While he has created life, the limitations of his monsters weigh heavy on his “Prodigal Son.” Rather than having a crisis of being properly interpreted like the Frankenstein Monster, Roy has a crisis of Life, of identity Oedipal in nature. He cannot be who he is without killing his father; he cannot usurp his father without becoming his father. Roy does this not by inseminating his mother, but by coming into possession of Sebastian; his physical maker—the man who provided his physical gestation without a womb. This is indicated by the shots of Sebastian gazing through the candles as Roy carries out his murderous deed.

Tyrell seems aware of his role; aware of his Paternal and Godly responsibility. As Roy sits on his “Father’s” bed and drops his head in penitence, Tyrell strokes his hair and after his “prodigal son” confesses to having done “questionable things”, he counters that he has also done great things. He, as the ultimate priest absolves Roy; allowing him to achieve his destiny as the Monster, Oedipus, and Man. An ominous cello underscores the murder. It makes notice that the entire scene has been devoid of music save a mystical jingle at the conclusion of the chess game. The scene is complete with Roy taking his “Father’s” head in his hands, kissing him intimately, and crushing his scull. Roy crushes the brain that envisioned him. He destroys his paternal wand. As God and Frankenstein inseminated with their minds Roy castrates his father by destroying his brain.

The scene ends with Roy’s back to the audience. We see Sebastian flee him as Oedipus’s mother fled him following the revelation of his patricide.  The music surges of harmonic voices; evocative of a church choir. The drums, the synthesizer, and horns swell as Sebastian runs from “the monster” Roy; applying a horrific tone to the concluding scene. Suddenly we are given a shot of a Replicant owl; a Frankensteinian animal fathered by the same science and Promethean drive as Roy.  He, being many things in this scene, is also an animal. He is clearly now not human; indeed finally more than human.

Tyrell’s death is symbolic of the death’s of Victor Frankenstein, Oedipus’s father, and the idea of God. Via science, philosophy, and perhaps a sense of Destiny, Tyrell seems acutely aware of the gravity of Roy’s presence in his bedroom. He is truthful with his son, accepting, and forgiving. He seems to know that he will be murdered. This acceptance of his destiny suggests that Roy, too, has a destiny in conjunction with his Father’s. The Frankenstein monster at the death of Victor Frankenstein goes off to die;  man is no more immortal without God than with; and Oedipus put out his eyes and wandered off, abandoning his identity for his lack of parentage and guilt of patricide. Perhaps Roy cannot exist. Perhaps his finite life that was so thoughtfully engineered and is so thoughtfully discussed in the scene leading to Tyrell’s death, is a commentary on the impossibility of super humanity, on reaching too far beyond the origin of the species. It could be a commentary on the impossibility of Man abandoning parentage literally and figurative; of us abandoning our mothers, our roots, our identities, and the symbolic wisdom and unattainable power that God represents.