Descent: Rape And The Pornography of Revenge
By Prairie Miller
Perhaps it was inevitable that a grueling movie about victimhood like Talia Lugacy's Descent would be made, considering that the reigning punishment of choice for crimes in US society is devolving into institutionalized revenge rather than rehabilitation. But if the revenge fantasy of even the most scarred victim is taken to its most inevitable potential extreme, how can any empathy for that victim be logically sustained, even as the perpetrator slips into his own victimization.
Such is the peculiar dilemma of Descent, as a stable point of sympathy for a date rape victim fails to remain established amid a kind of shifting brutality among the various characters. Central to this ambiguous state of affairs in Descent is Maya (Rosario Dawson), an insecure, self-isolating college coed of color who is recovering from a recent broken heart. Maya is confronted by overly aggressive white male Jared (Chad Faust) at a party. And while initially warding off his persistent overtures she relents, and agrees to go out on a rather elegant dinner date with him.
When they return to Jared's apartment, Maya engages in a bit of kissing with him, but decides at that point that this intimacy is enough for the evening. Jared, however, refuses to comply and brutally rapes Maya, stuffing her underwear in her mouth and hurling degrading sexist and racist epithets at her while overpowering her.
We never learn what transpired immediately afterward, but Maya is in apparent emotional denial and never reports the crime to the police. She instead subjects herself to a downward spiral of clubbing, drugs and casual group sex, which somehow gives her a false, repeatedly fleeting but quick fix feeling of control over her sense of self, which she's clearly lost. Maya also forms a mysterious relationship with Adrian (Marcus Patrick), a moody and intimidating club DJ.
When Maya encounters Jared again to her dismay, some time later at school, he ignores her as if he doesn't even remember her. Though he actually does, as we later learn. Maya is soon planning a bit of seduction and revenge of her own that also involves Adrian. Revenge is less than sweet, to say the least, in particular for the audience, veering between sickening and pathetically pornographic.
If the point is to have viewers identify with the terribly dehumanizing, unbearably repugnant experience of rape by thrusting them into the vile, seemingly interminable heat of the act, the effect is one of extreme overkill. Whether intentional or not, Lugacy denies us any easy compassion or sympathy with her protagonist, as lines unfortunately blur between victim and victimizer, predator and prey.
City Lights Home Entertainment
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