Character Analysis: Roy Batty
Updated March 23rd 2003
Blade Runner has been errorneously labeled by some as lacking in character development. The film reviewer Roger Ebert notes in his review of the director's cut, "It looks fabulous, it uses special effects to create a new world of its own, but it is thin in its human story." It should not surprise us that in the dehumanized world of Los Angeles 2019 the human story would be difficult to uncover. This sentiment is echoed in a thought provoking review written by Sean M. Rutledge. The characters in Blade Runner are as complex, dark and beautiful as their surroundings; with their humanity equally difficult to find.
Roy Batty's character stands out in this rich background to provide us amply with both questions and answers.
Interpretation I - Roy Rises
Roy Batty like any good villain is the most complex character in Blade Runner. Being a Nexus-6 with the best physical and mental capacity afforded to Replicants, he is designed to survive, fight and kill quickly with no remorse. With these qualities Roy successfully leads a group of four of his fellow Replicants (all Nexus-6's) to Earth by hijacking a shuttle and killing the crew and passengers. In the opening sequence an eye is overlooking the "Hades" landscape. This could be someone regarding their new surroundings, but it can also be a metaphor indicating the film is scrutinizing the audience (Humanity). If the eye is Roy's, it could also be an indication of his internal conflict; or even that Humanity can be closely examined through him (Interpretation II).
We see Roy for the first time in a vid-phone as his stiffening hand indicates his biological clock is running out. With the loss of one of his friends to a security field in a direct assault, and the discovery of Leon at Tyrell Corp., Roy demonstrates great flexibility in switching tactics. Upon Leon's return Roy asks, "Did you get your precious photos?" It seems Roy did not approve of Leon trying to get them, and maybe Roy finds the photos themselves as unimportant.
Roy shows his resourcefulness by locating Chew, a genetic designer that did some work for the Tyrell Corporation. When they meet Chew in his lab they immediately set an aggressive tone and Roy begins by paraphrasing a poem by William Blake:
"Fiery the Angels fell,
The original lines are:
"Fiery the Angels rose, & as they rose deep thunder roll'd
This is the first direct reference to an angel in the film. Roy clarifies his self image by changing "Angels rose" to "Angels fell" in conjunction with the theme of rebellion in this classic poem. It also indicates that Roy will be on Earth for a short time because Earth is a transitory point for angels, the equivalent of limbo or purgatory. Being compared to an angel is only one facet of Roy's connection to the Gods. Roy has many similarities with the demigod Hercules. They both have powerful father figures and chaotic stepmothers, Hera for Hercules and technology for Roy. They are both cast out by their fathers for reasons beyond their control and they have similar physical abilities, violent pasts, and are heroes to an underclass.
When Chew realizes what Roy is he takes credit for designing Roy's eyes. In response Roy says, "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes," which links the importance of sight with the formation of self. The manner in which Chew is questioned is as cold as the lab and during this scene we see Roy as methodical, intelligent and most of all ruthless. In a small irony Roy is able to see his way to Tyrell by questioning an eye designer, who provides him with the name of J.F. Sebastian.
Pris is sent by Roy to locate and pacify Sebastian and when Roy arrives soon afterward he and Pris kiss in front of Sebastian as if they were teenagers. This could demonstrate the inexperience Replicants have with these emotions. Roy then tries to tell Pris that Leon and Zhora have just been killed, but is unable to clearly express the grief he feels. His body language is convulsive and confused and it makes Roy seem as artificial and unnatural as the popularized Frankenstein.
Later on during breakfast Roy asks Sebastian why he is staring at them, Sebastian responds, "Because you're so different, so perfect." This is an interesting statement since Sebastian seems to be an entirely honest innocent person, a messenger of sorts. This clarifies to us that the Nexus-6's are made in the pursuit of Human perfection (whether that be conscious or unconscious). Although Roy still cannot fully control his own emotions, he shows an understanding of them in manipulating Sebastian. First Roy and Pris relate to Sebastian with their common plight of "accelerated decrepitude," then Roy uses that connection to force guilt onto Sebastian by saying, "If we don't do something soon…Pris hasn't got long to live." Then Roy adeptly uses a prop gag to relieve the tension and to build a sense of friendship and loyalty. The use of the glass to distort the eyes parallels the distorted truth when Roy says to Sebastian, "We are so happy you found us," when it was them who found Sebastian.
With Sebastian's security code Roy is gets to Tyrell's 'doorstep'. Roy demonstrates his analytical and strategic prowess by showing Sebastian how to win the game of chess between Tyrell and Sebastian. The endgame is identical to the Immortal Game between chess masters Anderssen and Kieseritzky, in London 1851. Along with the obvious connection of mortality; the game also represents Roy stalking Tyrell, and because of his arrogance Tyrell ends up being checkmated in more ways than one. It is seen by many that the ease with which Roy is able to gain entrance to Tyrell's bedroom is a plot weakness. However, not only is Sebastian a trusted subordinate of Tyrell; one of Tyrell's character flaws is to put too much faith in technology. Specifically in the security technology which fails to inform him of two visitors. This is corroborated by the fact that Roy's previous attempt to gain access to Tyrell was thwarted by technology and not by security personnel.
Finally in Tyrell's presence, Roy requests an alteration. As Tyrell begins
to innocently ask what it is, Roy emotes to his creator something that
many would like to say, "I want more life, fucker!" This
is not a request, it is a demand! In response to Roy's concern
with his impending death, Tyrell pleads powerlessness to the facts of
life which he altered to his benefit. Despite a dicussion on genetics
which is now innaccurate (a genetic sequence can be altered), Roy appears
to accept his fate and Tyrell tries to comfort him.
Roy then kisses Tyrell, a kiss that is complex in its meaning. It could be considered a assertion of power of Roy over Tyrell, but at the same time it could be an affectionate farewell to his creator. Roy then metes out heavenly justice by crushing Tyrell's head through the eye sockets; a further example of the eyes being the window into the soul. As Roy does this he appears to have mixed emotions; for despite Tyrell's moral corruption, he gave Roy life. With Tyrell dead Roy quickly dispenses with Sebastian who is now a witness to a murder and in some part responsible for facilitating Tyrell's misdeeds. While Roy descends from Tyrell's bedroom we see stars for the only time in Blade Runner. This is another reference to Roy as a fallen angel, for he now seems to be literally falling from the heavens. However, as he does so his expression of confusion indicates Roy is undergoing major personal upheaval. It seems as though in order for Roy to grow, he needed to kill the mentality Tyrell embodied and encouraged.
Roy is still trying to formulate his new morality as he returns to Sebastian's apartment. This may have been a contributing factor to the tactically poor choice to use the noisy elevator. Despite noticing Pris' body, Roy is still able to use his amazing speed and reflexes to dodge Deckard's shot. Roy begins psychologically proding warfare by telling Deckard how he is "the good man" by shooting unarmed opponents. His knowledge of Deckard's name and reputation is further evidence that Roy is effective at espionage. Using stealth, his keen sense of hearing and brute force, Roy smashes through a wall and disarms Deckard. Then after breaking two fingers in retrobution for Pris and Zhora, Roy begins to play deadly game of cat and mouse. While Deckard gets a head start Roy mourns the death of his beloved. He uses this anguish to fuel his rage.
While in this rage Roy howls like a wolf and reveals a very primal side. While in pursuit of Deckard, Roy says, "Six ... seven ... go to hell or go to heaven," an indication that LA is purgatory. Soon afterward we see some religious imagery when Roy's right hand begins to seize up. With another feat of strength he pulls a large nail out of wood with his bare hand, and plunges the nail through his the palm of his right hand making a stigma similar to the crucifixion. Perhaps this is a little foreshadowing. Deckard is soon forced onto a ledge with Roy right beside him. Roy uses humor for the first time by saying "that hurt." Then follows it up with a rhetorical question, "Where are you going?" For the first time he laughs, Roy laughs. Something that may seem natural to us and easily overlooked, but it is actually an important milestone for Roy. He then takes a moment to feel and enjoy the rain on his face...to savor the experience.
On the roof Roy again corners Deckard and forces him to try and jump to a nearby building. He ends up short and is hanging off the side of the building, too tired to pull himself up. Roy examines Deckard's predicament with a dove in hand and then walks away. Roy stops a short distance from the ledge and considers what to do next while he stands there clutching the white dove close to his heart, he experiences an epiphany. At that moment Roy turns around, runs and easily jumps over Deckard to the other roof. When Roy jumps the chasm between the two buildings he is not only crossing from one building to the next, he is also crossing over from being controlled by his emotions, to being in control of his emotions. This is truly being 'more Human than Human'.
Roy kneels before Deckard and regards him. Roy then says, "Painful experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave." This is as close as we get to seeing Roy's existence off-world. It also indicates that Roy is empathizing with Deckard. Roy smiles as Deckard's fate seems to be sealed , and then Deckard loses his grip and just as he expects to fall to his death, Roy saves him at the last moment. By grabbing Deckard's left wrist, Roy once again displays his impressive reflexes and his Herculean strength by lifting Deckard from over the edge of the building and dropping him on the roof with one outstretched arm. Deckard is confused and recoils in fear as Roy sits down tiredly. A moment passes as Deckard looks at the person who just saved his life...then Roy speaks:
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Roy dies as the white dove flies into the polluted sky. His life is ended prematurely by the treachery of the powers that be. In Roy's final moments he has realized through all that has happened, that life is what we make of it. With Tyrell's bad example to draw from, Roy forms his own morality as we watch. Greed, hubris and fear created and enslaved Roy, but in the end just before he dies Roy gives this beautifully poignant soliloquy. It gives us the sense that his death, any death, is a loss. This can only be felt through our empathy for Roy, so in a sense this is a VK test of the audience. Just as Roy becomes a decent person with a moral fabric, in the irony of life he dies peacefully and with dignity, releasing his soul to the heavens.
To some Roy is a senseless murderer, but he can also be regarded as tragic hero who attempted to mend his ways. Roy begins as an emotionally awkward Frankenstinian creature, then becomes a passionate Hercules, and at the very end evolves into a saint, a remarkable transformation.
Interpretation II - Roy Falls
Let us assume that Roy is emotionally mature from the moment we see him. As outlined in the previous interpretation, Roy goes through three fairly distinct emotional states during the course of Blade Runner. The first is controlled and subtle, next he is passionately violent and at the end empathic and humane. It will be shown that these can reinterpreted in a way that brings a better understanding of Roy, and by extension ourselves.
In the beginning Roy is quite downbeat emotionally and controlled. This may not be because he is without emotion but rather that he doesn't display them. Roy is the dominant person of his group and dominant figures have much less body language when amongst their subordinates. To find a Human example of Roy's behavior, one need look no further than Roy's creator. Tyrell is the leader of his corporation, and he also keeps control over his emotions and body language. This behavior can also be seen in good leaders such as Rudy Giuliani, being a source of calm and confidence under stressful conditions.
A point may be raised by some that Roy has killed many Humans already, and his lack of emotion to this reality is unnatural. One can argue that a hardened soldier must be able to deal with this if they are to succeed at killing the enemy. Roy's profession is that of a soldier and his proficiency and reaction to killing is no different from a well trained Human soldier fighting a real enemy. This lack of empathy on Roy's part is fundamentally important to the film as a whole. Roy mirrors the lack of empathy shown by Tyrell, Bryant and Humanity in general to Replicants. So how is Roy's behavior any worse?
As the film progresses, Roy becomes increasingly agitated and emotional as he loses members of his group. In the first interpretation this agitation and passion is seen as Roy learning emotional responses to what he has experienced. However, it can also be repressed emotions trying to break out of the cool and controlled facade that Roy has been putting on for the benefit of his fellow Replicants. It is also likely that Pris and Roy have only recently been able to be together, and are still infatuated with each other. Something many couples go through, and this pair bonding is a prelude to parenting. (despite Replicants not being able to have children)
This changed perspective also allows for a fresh look at the meeting between Roy and Tyrell. Roy is now approaching Tyrell as a son looking for help. When none can be offered, he tries to receive forgiveness for what he has done from his father. In response Tyrell praises Roy's achievements. Not as a person though, as his creation "the prize". Tyrell is objectifying Roy and as such reveals his shallowness and his lack of empathy for Roy's plight. This is what seals Tyrell's fate. It is the ultimate betrayal of a parent, putting their own interests ahead of their children.
When Roy kisses Tyrell, it is like the kiss of death in the God Father II between brothers. It is not simply a kiss of death between a victim and a murderer, but a farewell to the close relationship between them that was broken by betrayal. The method that Roy uses to kill Tyrell is particularly gruesome. However, there is something else transpiring here. Tyrell's glasses are a representation of technology and intellect. Roy does not smash them, but instead moves them aside and destroys Tyrell's soul, who Tyrell is, not what he uses. Technology and knowledge are not to blame for what happened to Roy. An important point to consider as we develop our biotechnology.
When Pris is killed violently Roy loses control and seeks revenge, a very Human trait. He also sheds all semblance of civilized behavior by howling and removing his clothing (also alluding to rebirth). During this state of mind Roy says "Six... seven... go to Hell or go to Heaven," which hints that every individual must find their own way out of their personal purgatory, just like Roy is struggling with his at this very moment. Is Roy a madman or is he venting repressed emotions? The line between the two becomes pretty thin.
"...on first look it may seem to be a madman running around, but I think the madman would have tried to kill Deckard quickly. Roy plays a game instead." - Netrunner
It seems Roy is indeed playing a deadly game with Deckard. This game is similar to the emotional venting Humans do at football games and other competitive events; where injuries and even deaths do occur. Roy needs to vent a lot of repressed anger, and this may be the first time he is doing it in such a healthy "controlled" way. All this makes the game that much more unpredictable and dangerous and although Roy is in control of the game, we along with Deckard do not know how controlled Roy is.
After venting the majority of his anger, Roy finally comes the third emotional state where he is philosophical and passive. Roy has covered an impressive spectrum of Humanity in the space of several days, not an easy feat. The first interpretation takes all that has happened and sees it as a growing process. Where an emotionally immature Replicant raises itself to being Human. However, what if Roy has emotions from the beginning? What changes is that Roy begins to fully express his emotions, and to empathize with his victims. This makes the process not one of achieving Humanity, but of moving toward the ideal of Humanity. In order to do that, Roy must unlearn what the Tyrell Corporation and his military owners have taught him. Just as we all must unlearn the misconceptions our culture and parents put into us.
Roy falls in numerous ways. He falls literally from outer space to Earth. He falls out of favor with his creator, most importantly he falls off his own pedestal. In the end he no longer views himself as an angel somehow better than Humanity. Roy did not say to Tyrell, "we want more life..." he said "I". Roy is able to see his selfishness now, and realizes he is making the same shortsighted mistakes as Deckard and Tyrell. Although Roy may not know Deckard personally, Roy empathizes with him because they are (were) both pawns in a bigger game. By saving Deckard's life Roy is able to share with him his last words. In the Original Version, it is made apparent by Deckard's voice over that he understands what Roy was saying and he will never "retire" another Replicant again. However, in the BRDC it is not so clear on both counts.
With ample Human examples to draw from and Roy's ability to understand and manipulate Humans around him, it is indeed more likely that he was just as Human as any of us from from the very beginning. The fact that he kills, lies, cheats, steals illustrates his will and talent to survive. As to his emotional maturity and stability, any person brave and intelligent enough would see no alternative but to do the same thing if put in Roy's shoes. The bloody, sweaty shoes of a slave that has no hope of rescue, and a death sentence over his head. Ideally at the very end, Roy overcomes his hardship and evolves from being selfish and cruel, to selfless and kind. However, in LA 2019 there is very little that is ideal.
When one attempts to interpret Blade Runner, or any film with the nature of Humanity as one of its central themes (I cannot think of one that does not), this should be kept in mind:
"Human beings are animals. We are sometimes monsters, sometimes
magnificent, but always animals. We may prefer to think of ourselves
as fallen angels but in reality we are risen apes."
If Roy lacks higher emotions like empathy it could be thought that he must be somehow less real than us, less deserving of the rights we have. Human children fit the same criteria and they are given the same if not more rights than Human adults. The perception that children are "innocent" whereas Replicants are "inexperienced" shows a bias, but highlights a significant difference between the two. Replicants do differ from Humans when it comes to learning for a Replicants knowledge base is accelerated and they are denied a childhood. This is made apparent since the skills a Nexus-6 needs would take years of training despite their intelligence. Not only is this impractical for the Nexus-6's who only have a four year life span, but would entail memories of learning which Replicants do not have. As such, Replicants do not start off ignorant as Humans do.
So interpretation becomes very problematic. Did Roy need to read "I think, therefore I am" to learn it? This basic question becomes difficult to answer. It is possible that such a concept would be considered subversive by the Tyrell Corporation. A point against this is that a Replicant provided with this quotation would have a better sense of self; important for autonomous decision making in combat situations.
Roy personifies how we unconsciously view ourselves, as a fallen angels, but are Nexus-6's [h]uman? Broadly speaking human can be used to describe any member of the Hominidae (Hominid) family which has bipedal motion. This currently includes 12 species ranging from Ardipithecus ramidus to Homo sapiens sapiens (not a typo). A Replicant looks and walks like us, so in the broad evolutionary sense they are undoubtedly human. Also their physiology is so close to ours that a simple physical test cannot detect a Replicant. The question then becomes, are Replicants Homo sapiens sapiens...[H]uman? Replicants do think, talk, and have emotions just like Humans. Is there anything that separates us from them? Currently, yes there is. Replicants are genetically modified, they do not have parents and they are sterile. If these differences seem shallow that is because they are.
The fact that Replicants cannot procreate may satisfy the conscience of those who purchase them, but eunuch slaves of Rome were quite Human. What is important to remember is that if we are merely screening for the best DNA and not altering it, then there is still a difference between us and them. Yet the moment Humanity moves from helping the hand of nature to actively controlling it then the line in the sand will vanish. For once we begin down the road of altering ourselves, by doing so we change the nature of Humanity. Since evolution is constantly mixing and mutating our DNA, what difference would it make? Well the rate of change in a system is usually accelerated by technology with the best of intentions, but eventually results in unforseen consequences. It is in genetics one may find the biggest difference between Replicants and Humans. Ultimately the point is moot since Roy demonstrates all of the qualities of being self-aware. He is able to learn and grow as an individual and to distinguish between right and wrong, which are some of the defining qualities of Humanity.
There is a tendency to think of Roy's emotional maturity in terms of a child of a similar age. This is errorneous because Roy is far more intelligent and knowledgeable than a 4 year old. The quantity and quality of his short life is far different from any Human child. A child is born into ignorance and has very little cognitive ability in its first years of life; whereas a Replicant is given knowledge that denies them a childhood and are thrown into the world as a slave. Every Human is born into ignorance, while every Nexus-6 Replicant is created with knowledge. It is more accurate to compare the Replicant emotional state to Human adults who have been slaves in the past.
Not only is Roy's nature in question, but the reasoning and ultimate meaning of the two most important events during the film are very difficult to interpret. Those being Roy killing Tyrell, and Roy saving Deckard.
There are two religious interpretations of Tyrell's murder. It could represent Roy killing God and rejecting religion as a whole in order to find his own way out of personal purgatory. However, it is apparent that despite all the makings of a god, Tyrell is corporate royalty at best. This can be completely reversed and Roy could be killing Satan (Tyrell) and embracing the light that is God in the end. But the concept of Satan is often used as propaganda by the faithful to scare people into line or to persecute other religions such as Wicca, and even Tyrell isn't pure evil. Either way, Roy becomes a better person with Tyrell out of the way.
You can fit in Freud to provide variations on these. Roy's ego (sense of self) kills Tyrell in order to control the Id (primal urges) and brings a better balance with the superego (morality). This is the "Satan interpretation". Roy could also consider Tyrell his father, and in order for his ego to assert independence from his parent(s), he has to kill his overbearing father. This is a variation on the "God interpretation". There is also a third angle to Tyrell's death in some scripts (and a storyboard). After Roy kills Tyrell he finds out from Sebastian that the real Tyrell was cryogenically frozen but was killed by accident. However, this is not in the film and is not relevant.
Another note about religious references in Blade Runner, although many things can be associated with the Bible the ultimate meaning of the symbols are open to interpretation.
It has been suggested by some that at the end Roy is still seeking "more life" by saving Deckard. Meaning it was not an altruistic gesture, but so that Roy can continue to live on in Deckard's memory. Roy excels at everything he does; he is faster, smarter, stronger than any Human, it seems only fitting he becomes more Human than Human. Roy's actions and his final words are not consistent with a person thinking about themselves. He breaks two of Deckard's fingers on behalf of Pris and Zhora and mourns over the body of Pris. It could be argued he is angry over losing his disciples, but Roy does not punish Deckard for Leon's death, indicating Roy's actions are motivated by a sense of justice rather than retrobution. Also it seems evident that Roy empathizes with Deckard in the end, "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it?" Comparing Deckard's emotional state to his experience of slavery. At the very end Roy seems to be at peace with himself, not struggling against death in pursuit of immortality by imprinting himself upon Deckard.
Roy Batty is complex and the ambiguity of his actions makes him many things to many people. The fact it was done convincingly is a testament to the genius and vision of Ridley Scott, and the unbridled talent of Rutger Hauer.
Roy did not need to rise to our Humanity for he is there to begin with. Roy effectively represents Humanity trying to defeat mortality and to achieve the inner peace (enlightenment) of pure consciousness that deities of monotheism represent. Roy breaks away from the masses when he rejects his (selfish/jealous) ways by killing Tyrell (id/deity). By doing so Roy is able to go past assumptions and prejudices and see himself for what he really is, no better than the Humans he loathes. Through this Roy can grow beyond his petty ways. He is able to attain inner peace and break the cycle of prejudice and hatred based on trivial differences, and forgive the mistakes in the past that cannot be changed or corrected. The peace and freedom this brings allows Roy to grow wings and escape his personal purgatory, and to truly become more Human than Human. Ironically Roy achieves this just before he dies; as an added irony he may not even be Human. That is humorous to some... others find it sad or scary, a few... find it prophetic.
"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create
superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."
Many parallels to Blade Runner can be seen in John Milton's "Paradise
Much like Tyrell's comparison of Roy to the Prodigal Son in the Bible, a comparison of Roy to Satan in "Paradise Lost" is very useful. It shows many similarities in situation and mood, gives us new insights and perspectives on characters, and highlights differences which ultimately allows a clearer view of the complex characters in Blade Runner.
58 Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
A strong indication that it is Roy's eye surveying the industrial "Hades" below in the first sequence. However, Earth is not necessarily Hell, but purgatory for the Replicants.
75 Oh how unlike the place from whence they fell!
Earth is probably very different in comparison to Off-World.
106 All is not lost--the unconquerable will,
The will Roy has certainly seems unconquerable.
253 A mind not to be changed by place or time.
Finally Roy frees his mind, and he shows the way to Deckard.
"The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave,
his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others.
Freedom and slavery are mental states."
263 Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
Roy and the other Replicants chose freedom on a deprepit Earth over slavery Off-World (the Heavens).
342 That o'er the realm of impious Pharaoh hung
This Pharaoh sounds awfully like Tyrell, and the darkening of the surroundings sounds familiar too.
660 Full counsel must mature. Peace is despaired;
Roy had to confront Tyrell.
691 That riches grow in Hell; that soil may best
Being morally corrupt Tyrell can provide things that are in demand by everyone. He profits greatly from this and is able to build great monuments in a short time.
791 Though without number still, amidst the hall
Desmond Morris, "The Human Animal"
Thanks to jimbo, Netrunner and Nile.
Written for BRmovie.com