Richie is, perhaps by default, a Christ-like figure in The Royal Tenenbaums: he is the only one of the Tenenbaum children who is unconditionally forgiving of his father’s mistakes; he is the first character to utter the words “I love you” and does so frequently; and, most significantly, he is willing to die in order to save himself and Margot from the futility of their reciprocal desire. Although mutual need drives the siblings’ attraction, Richie’s need is perhaps more selfless: it is a necessity born of his desire to save Margot, and to restore the grace and innocence he witnessed in them both as children.
Like Margot, Richie initially attempts to conceal his shame: he disguises himself under long hair and a full beard, and travels out to sea in a futile effort to put Margot behind him. Even though he had not played tennis in years – since suffering a nervous breakdown on the court after spotting Margot and her new husband in the audience – he is unwilling to remove the garb that symbolized both his athletic glory and the only Tenenbaum achievement that made his father proud. Significantly, Richie is the first to purge his uniform and his belongings, notably his cherished bird, Malachi, whom he sets free. It is Richie’s attempted suicide that offers the most profound evidence of his willingness to let go of his former self, and his need for absolution.