We know that we can expect a climactic conclusion to Maya’s narrative when she eagerly greets Jared at her door in a provocative dress, full makeup, and a bright and excited smile.
Jared does his best to impress Maya with his dramatic sports anecdotes, as he is unaware that he is the fly caught in the spider’s web this time.
Maya knowingly sips her wine, resisting Jared’s flamboyant language, and orders him to strip naked in front of her.
We are surprised to see Jared’s penis, the weapon of his crime, as he appears unsure of himself in Maya’s living room.
Maya is now the stalker, the predator, as she circles Jared: another dramatically lingering scene serving as the rising action to the film’s homosexual rape sequence.
Maya blindfolds Jared just as she was blinded to the danger he posed on their date.
Jared’s positioning is fixed with rope and chains, a metaphor for Maya’s femininity and cultural identity at the start of the film.
An extremely quick shot in the film, Jared is chained like an animal, and we must pause to read the words BABOON CUNT that Maya paints on his chest.
We finally witness Maya’s animal aggression and rage in its simplest form when she yells at Jared, “I can’t hear you!” reifying his loss of voice and agency.
Maya uses a long, phallic object to first rape Jared before Adrian makes his presence known, which marks Jared’s rape as one composed of bisexual elements.
The ironically soft touch of a man’s hand is our cue that Adrian is in the bedroom with Maya and Jared, and this closeup exemplifies the gendered power struggle we see throughout the film.
The camera is situated behind Adrian so that we see his powerful back as he rapes Jared, and Maya watches to the side of the frame, at moments a participant in the rape and at other times, simply a spectator like us.
Unlike Jared’s face during Maya’s rape, which is hidden by shadow and his stringy hair, we are given a full view of Adrian’s unapologetic face, possibly from Maya’s angle.
Once Maya is ordered to remove Jared’s blindfold, Jared has his first look at exactly who is violating him.
As Adrian continues to rape Jared, we can see that Jared’s limbs, feet, and hands have gone limp in quiet surrender, and Maya has turned her back to the spectacle.
Maya turns to look at us after Adrian questions if his actions have “righted” the wrong done against her, and with tears streaming down her face, she turns back around without responding to her friend.
Once Jared is secured to the bed, Maya orders, “No more talking.” She begins to cry as she relays a dream, he attempts to comfort her, and she gags him and reveals a dildo. The gag is especially significant as we know Jared to charm and manipulate through his deceitful and inflated words. As Jared screams, Maya tells him, “You’re mine now. You’re mine.” It is not until a closeup shot of Jared’s restrained leg with a large, masculine hand stroking it that we realize Adrian is in the room with them. We hear Jared’s muffled screams and cries as Adrian mounts him. Maya reaches underneath Adrian’s powerful thrusts and begins to masturbate Jared as he is raped. Adrian orders Maya to remove his blindfold and even says, “Mira” (“Look”) to Jared, not bothering to speak English or translate his command. Adrian puckers his lips and tells Jared, “Hello, fairy cake.” A few minutes after this, Adrian says, “Look at that. She made a mess all over herself,” further feminizing Jared with pronouns and also objectifying him by speaking of him in the third person. Adrian says,
This dialogue toys with the homoerotic undertones of football and also highlights Jared’s former pretentious language about his supposed athletic accomplishments. By Adrian telling Jared that he accepts defeat well, Jared is placed where he has struggled to resist: subordinate to other men, and thus aligned with the feminine. Jared is also “conquered” in the sense that he will likely never again commit a rape and “mastered” in the sense that he will never be as he was before, as Veselka tells us above.
The queering of Jared is pivotal due to his chauvinistic positioning as a macho football player who enjoys romancing seemingly as many women as he can. During Jared’s rape, Adrian asks Jared, “You want me to help you out down there?” Jared struggles to nod to the thrusting man, and Adrian responds, “Fuck you. I ain’t a fuckin’ faggot,” and he begins raping Jared more quickly and powerfully. Adrian means to crystallize the fact that Jared is now the “faggot” as he is made the submissive receiver of Adrian’s penis and the silenced acceptor of defeat at the hands of a colored man. Most central is Adrian as the colored male rapist and Jared as the white victim, the queer receptacle, the inverted stereotype of the suave, heteronormative college athlete. The parallel of homosexuality and animality in order to achieve “justice” seems to derive from Maya’s own goal to vindicate herself as an empowered woman rather than a victim.
Before we are given a full shot of the bed containing both Adrian and Jared, along with Maya’s back to the spectacle, Jared’s gagged and frightened face is shown in slow motion to emphasize the gravity of what is taking place, but the pace quickly speeds up again. In an almost comical moment, mid-rape, Adrian says to Maya, “Hey, you got water? I’m getting thirsty.” Adrian offers a complex brand of masculinity. He gladly situates himself as Maya’s delegated companion to avenge her trauma, he claims he is not a “faggot” as he rapes another man, and he is brazen enough to request water as Jared’s limp hands and feet dangle over the victim’s disabled body as Maya sits to the side, crying.
Maya decides that her own path to self-preservation involves assaulting her attacker rather than taking his life. She discovers her own method of stealing a piece of Jared’s life, instead. What many portrayals of rape-revenge have in common are the underlying sense of eroticism and a feigned mutual attraction between victim and attacker. The attackers’ sadistic urges are manipulated and hence utilized to induce suffering. Clover asserts, “If maleness caused the crime, then maleness will suffer the punishment” (123). Maya’s narrative follows the same general pattern as all rape-revenge films: Maya is raped, legal and social justice fail, and she creates her own form of justice. Given Descent’s racial subplot, we can add to Clover’s argument: if whiteness caused the crime, then whiteness will suffer the punishment.
However, Descent is a vital component within this group of films because it confronts us with our own feelings of rage, racial bias, and gender roles, and how these meet and interlock with the isolated act of rape. As Linda Williams points out,
This accounts, after all, for the success behind this cinematic subgenre: rape continues to take place across the globe, and the horror and violence that follow are ever-present realities.
Maya can experience closure only when Jared is bound in the ropes of his own feminization, an outcome arguably worse than death. Maya represents the virginal or “good girl” archetype of the genre, however. While Maya maintains an aura of innocence when we meet her, her attack quickly drives her to embrace the sadistic and tightly interwoven roles of seductress and murderer. Matt Zoller Seitz exalts in The New York Times, “Rape is power. [Descent is] [h]ard to watch but essential to see.” Descent, not necessarily moralistically opposed to rape, glorifies the sadistic tone that permeates the scene where Jared is raped.
The film’s final section is one of the longest uninterrupted rape scenes in narrative film. The scene is foreshadowed when Jared arrives at Maya’s apartment anticipating a wild night of sex. Maya recreates the tone of their memorable date with wine and candlelight, and Jared even wears the same football jersey he wore when they met. Jared is made to strip his clothes in Maya’s living room and in fact appears humiliated by his unforeseen vulnerability. Maya exercises the female gaze, which proves eerily similar to the traditional cinematic male gaze: a hungry expression of longing that penetrates and thus degrades the object of the gaze. The sustained full-frontal male nudity which we encounter is also rare within cinema while the baring of female breasts and buttocks have become commonplace.
After arriving at Maya’s apartment, Jared seductively says, “So, I’m all yours, as I promised.” Indeed, Maya now owns Jared. Race ties into his language as well. Jared is a white man now sexually owned and dominated by a black man and woman via bisexual rape. Once Jared is securely restrained with rope and handcuffs, Maya repeats many of the insincere phrases Jared said to her before she was violated. “My turn, my turn to talk. Just talk, no worries. Scout’s honor,” Maya says warmly, similarly to the way Jared lied to her at the campus party where they first met. Maya uses red paint to write “BABOON CUNT” on Jared’s chest. The shots are dark as the room is lit only enough to satisfy us with Jared’s nude body and flaccid penis, a symbol of his first signs of impotence and submission while under Maya’s control. Here is the bed he figuratively made and must now quite literally lay in, complete with Maya hovering menacingly over it. It is also significant that we encounter his penis, the tool used to carry out his crime, hanging limp, defeated; he has been disarmed.
While further repeating Jared’s original words, “You like that, bitch” (now more of a command than a question), Maya recreates the powerless experience of rape for Jared. Veselka explains,
Maya moans erotically, “Fuckin’ maggot, fucking nothin’. Open up, oh yeah, take it all in,” recreating the satisfaction Jared obtained when he raped her. Maya takes on a masculinized role with the aid of an artificial phallus. As Williams claims,
Descent depicts no tangible murders, but portrays this idea of feminine power activated by “bisexual components” as illustrated by the dildo Maya uses to penetrate Jared. What is more,
Lugacy offers a reality where males are as vulnerable as their female counterparts, if not more so due to the presumed guarantee of male power and privilege, which Maya proves is a false sense of power, and thus a surrendering of power in itself. Maya tells Jared, “Funny how words create ideas. Ideas are hard to shake, it turns out.” This sentiment is no doubt in reference not only to her plans for Jared, but also to the words spoken by Jared during her rape, which prove so dehumanizing that she takes on the roles of rapist and black savage. Maya cleverly avoids the mounting inconvenience of womanhood as she rapes Jared with a dildo. As spectators of rape culture, we are somewhat apathetic to the male-on-female rape, but stupefied audiences continue to experience shock and outrage over the taboo spectacle of male-on-male rape. It is also likely that, as viewers, we have become numb to the traditional heterosexual rape scene, which entails the predictably aggressive male and the helpless female: a tragedy we see continually on the news. Instead, we must digest and make sense of the powerless male who is dominated by another male, larger, stronger, and darker. It is this idea of Jared positioned as a submissive woman, that becomes “hard to shake” for us.
Jared now understands that it is neither Maya nor Adrian who is the “baboon bitch” or the “nigger with attitude,” but himself. His white male privilege is disrupted and halted and he is now the slave, the objectified nigger, the “nothing.” As mentioned earlier, one filmic example of racial subjugation tying into a male-on-male rape scene outside of prison walls is from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). The black Marsellus (Ving Rhames), explains to Butch (Bruce Willis), what he plans to do with the white redneck who rapes him in the basement of the white man’s store.
Marsellus’s language here is paramount; he plans to call on other black men to help him torture and kill his white rapist, whose suffering is the only form of satiation Marsellus hungers for after he is sodomized. Had Marcellus been raped by another black man, this is not the same reaction we would observe.
As Maya watches Jared’s rape carried out, she begins to cry. Before her rape, we know Maya as a cautious but driven young woman with a sense of humor. Post-rape, Maya is hungry for dangerous situations, sexual encounters, and the company of fellow minorities instead of the anonymous, foreign white faces that surround her at work and school. She now cries for Jared as she mourns her own innocence and internal peace. Jared initially struggles but eventually surrenders, and his limp, seemingly lifeless body is continuously pounded against the bed frame as Adrian sweats profusely. As the first scene that contains Maya’s tears, we know that Maya combats her own moral sensibilities concerning rape, and she regrets that Jared’s rape must now in fact take place. However, Maya’s tears do not nullify or affect the attack that inevitably unfolds before her.
Maya touches Jared sexually throughout much of the scene, but eventually she turns away from the rape and sits forlornly next to the bed. Between grunts and groans, Adrian says, “That’s it, that’s right, make me feel it, puta.” Adrian does not bother to change the Spanish ending of the word “puta” (bitch) to a masculinized “o,” denoting Jared’s now submissive (missionary) position as a woman. As Clover tells us,
Behavior is shown as a gendered activity. Jared is feminized and thus inferiorized as he squirms beneath Adrian, remaining subordinate to the black man’s power. This concept is further evidenced when Adrian mockingly questions, “You like raping smart girls, huh? Make ‘em feel small and stupid, huh? You stupid fuck. Who’s stretching whose cunt now, huh?” Such violent language tugs at our visceral fear of emotional and bodily mutilation, but we also feel that Maya is vindicated by Adrian’s words and deeds.
Because the role of race within Descent is so vital to the rape narrative it illustrates, it is especially significant that Jared’s rapist is a man of color. Maya secures a blindfold over Jared’s eyes with the unspoken promise of sex; the blindfold denotes color-blindness as well as the foreplay that precedes sex. Adrian eventually tells Maya, “Hey, take it off him. Make him see his daddy.” Because we are now aligned with Jared due to his victim status, his horrified expression is consumed through our cinematic gaze. In the R-rated version of the film, however, the duration of Jared’s feeble gaze is shortened. Jared is made to understand that this is exactly what Adrian is: his “daddy,” his owner, and his master. Earlier in the film, Maya is abandoned by her white friend at the campus party where she meets Jared. Her friend is easily sweet-talked by a generic male student who tells her that she is “special.” The naive girl easily forgets about her friend, and Maya rises to leave. After she is placed outside of the Latina girls’ conversation at the mini mart and then forsaken by her white friend, Maya feels racially isolated and conflicted. Adrian, appearing to be of mixed black and Hispanic ethnicity, is later welcomed by Maya to assist in ascertaining her elusive identity not simply as a racialized being but as a young woman who has elicited her feminine agency.
It is a homosexual rape that occurs in Maya’s apartment that “saves” her, that redeems her status as the “smart college girl” we know she is, rather than just a “nigger with attitude,” the stereotype her coworkers ascribe to her. Although Jared sets up his own humiliation as the aggressively macho jock who simply fears the scorn of others, his inevitable queering relinquishes Maya of a rapist’s guilt, and his effeminate status positions him beneath Maya. Adrian at once lends his masculine power and male privilege to Maya and undermines Jared’s masculinity via the rape. Maya, rather than taking on the role of passive rape survivor, approaches vengeance proactively by involving Adrian. Maya, then, vicariously rapes Jared via homosexual rape. Jared’s two-part rape also contains glaring elements of humiliation. While Maya is alienated for her color and gender, Jared is othered for his status as both rapist and “faggot,” and is even mocked for his bowels releasing during the rape. Most dehumanizing is Jared’s silencing throughout his rape, after the many violent words he spoke during Maya’s rape as well as the lies he told throughout the film. When Jared tells Maya, “It’s okay,” she asserts, “Shut the fuck up! No one wants to hear from you!” Maya wisely subverts her own feminine, and thus powerless, position through Adrian’s privileged position as a male to effectively silence Jared and obtain her conceptualization of justice. Her need of homosexual rape, as well as the power of male privilege, to forge justice speaks to a primal need for redemption by any means necessary; Adrian affords her this freedom. Maya’s acknowledgement of her powerlessness is the very source of her strength, which renders her a cinematic heroine for practicing female agency by challenging the gendering of violence by way of Adrian’s body.
Maya hunts Jared like an animal, and he is treated as more of an animal than a person as he is lured to Maya’s home under false pretenses, and he is bound, taunted, and abused. The animality of Maya’s and Adrian’s joint crime is telling. The savage Maya, labeled a “baboon cunt” by Jared, appeals to the primitive black man for help. The image of Maya and Adrian joining forces and working together to violate and dominate Jared illustrates a scene of black solidarity and aggression. The underlying animality within this exchange is aligned with male homosexuality as Adrian verbally abuses Jared during his rape. We must note that Maya does not lose all trust in men due to her rape; she in fact trusts Adrian with the important task of reclaiming and redefining her power as a black woman. Adrian initially tells Jared when mounting him, “Down, boy,” as if the bound man is a dog. Maya also appears to be masturbating Jared as Adrian thrusts inside him. Adrian reminds Jared, “You’re mine. You’re forever mine,” indicating that Maya may have been “owned” by Jared for one night (a rape which lasts mere minutes), but Jared, by being raped by another man (an event which we never see conclude), can prepare for a lifetime as a degraded possession.
As Maya turns her head to look at Adrian, we watch as tears fall down her face, and we hear a voiceover from earlier in the film when she is stargazing with Jared on their date before he rapes her. Maya tells him, “I need to get over it, I know it...and I will.” As Maya turns back around, away from the ongoing rape, we continue to hear the sounds of Adrian’s heavy breathing.
By Descent’s conclusion, Maya is transformed into a figure unrecognizable from her former self. Maya appears broken, yet she undergoes a metamorphosis of strength, conviction, and unfaltering confidence. She is a sexually realized, self-aware black woman who embraces the protection offered by other minorities. While the recovery process may never draw to a close, Maya successfully transfigures herself from the black savage the hegemonic order suspects her to be. According to Oler, rape “reduces all of us to a single choice of whether we will be victims or monsters” (34). Rather than playing the passive role of victim, Maya instead chooses to be a monster, a cruel “baboon bitch.”
We consider Maya triumphal because she survives her attack, but we are also left with the sense that she is not victorious. A black woman, Maya settles into her own darkness as Adrian rapes Jared mere feet away. We likely feel that Jared receives due treatment, the suffering reserved only for those who commit sex crimes against women or children. We are, however, conflicted on the basis that rape is innately immoral, regardless of circumstance. Certainly, Maya’s rape induces her dark Descent, but it also emboldens her and kindles her sense of racial identity, lending her the courage to locate her sexuality and exploit it for the purpose of Jared’s downfall. However, when Adrian asks Maya if everything is “okay now,” a question directed toward us as well, we know the answer is most likely “No.”