[NEEDLE DROP] “Colorblind” by Counting Crows in ‘Cruel Intentions’

A still from 'Cruel Intentions', the Needle Drop logo is edited onto the bottom right hand corner.
Artwork by Caroline Madden

A needle drop is more than just the use of a popular song in a film—it’s an affecting moment that ignites our senses, bringing the visual medium to artistic heights. “Needle Drop” is a monthly column that will explore such moments, looking at how a variety of films across genres use pre-existing songs to colour a scene.

Cruel Intentions is a cunning erotic teen drama based on the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses about a wealthy Manhattan playboy Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) who makes a bet with his alluring stepsister (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to deflower the notorious virgin Annette (Reese Witherspoon), but he realises that he cannot go through with the devious wager when he starts to fall in love with her. 

The languid, hypnotic piano opening to “Colorblind” begins playing immediately after Sebastian, attempting to find where Annette is, hangs up his phone in frustration. Annette left his aunt’s estate after Sebastian rejected her due to his confused, newfound feelings. The tender song propels Sebastian’s journey towards his true love. Counting Crows’ soft, ethereal piano motivates the lovely wide shot that slowly zooms out on Sebastian driving his car across a bridge in front of the breathtaking expanse of Manhattan. Annette is lost in this industrial sea of buildings and streets, but Sebastian is determined to find her. 

In the next shot, a glum Annette boards an escalator at the train station. Director Roger Kumble’s camera travels down the escalator as Annette walks up it, evoking Sebastian’s intense desire to locate Annette. The next shot is from Annette’s point of view; we follow the escalator as it rises and the stairs disappear at the top, slowly revealing Sebastian standing with a determined stillness. His bold blue shirt stands out from the drab, grey surroundings of the train station. In this short and swift sequence, Kumble masterfully builds the audience’s anticipation and excitement to see the lovers reunite, particularly during the shots from Sebastian’s focused gaze on a distracted Annette before she sees him waiting for her.  

The ballad’s serene tempo elegantly underscores the camera’s smooth, graceful movements. “I am ready, I am ready…” lead singer Adam Duritz repeats in an aching voice, reflecting the sentimental vulnerability of this integral moment where Sebastian prepares to confess his true feelings of love—for the very first time in his life. 

When Annette notices him, she cooly remarks that she is impressed. “Well, I’m in love,” Sebastian simply replies before they kiss passionately. The camera whirls around them, moving away from the embracing couple to reveal the surrounding hubbub of the train station that they are oblivious to. For once, Sebastian does not care about his reputation or what other people think; the only thing that matters to him is being with Annette. 

The “I am ready” mantra repeats during an extreme close up of Annette and Sebastian’s locked lips as they make love for the first time. Sebastian is kind enough to ask her if she is okay, and Annette is rapt in pleasure. She has been saving herself for someone she loves and she has been rewarded with an amorous experience. The amber hues lend a soft, romantic glow to the scene, one that juxtaposes the rest of the film’s stark, bold shades. These passionate images are accentuated by the gentle warmth of the Counting Crows’ ballad. The corporeal lyrics, “Pull me out from inside,” emphasise the beautiful intimacy of this moment as they bare their souls and bodies to one another. The stirring violin adds an even deeper resonance to this sensual scene. 

Luritz’s lyrics and earnest singing speaks to Sebastian’s inner emotional turmoil. Throughout the film, Sebastian has been colorblind, seeing women merely as black and white sexual objects, virgins or whores, playthings he can easily discard or manipulate for his own gains. Falling in love has completely transformed him; no longer a suave lothario who always gets what he wants, he is “taffy stuck and tongue tied,” “stutter shook and uptight.” “No one gets to come in” and know the real Sebastian—his thoughts or authentic emotions—because he hides beneath a cold, and ruthless exterior. But Annette has broken through his shell and opened him up and made him question his selfish behaviours. Like an onion peeling away, he is “folded and unfolded and unfolding,” slowly shedding his performative aloofness and vindictive nature to reveal his true self. 

Cruel Intentions is an erotic film that sizzles with titillating dialogue and salacious scenes, but it is important to note that the “Colorblind” sequence is the only actual sex scene that occurs on screen. Kumble uses the quiet, delicate ballad to magnify the significance of the couple’s intense lovemaking where not only Annette loses her virginity, but so does Sebastian—this is the first time he has ever had sex with someone he loves. “Colorblind” is an evocative song that perfectly underlines this memorable and unabashedly romantic encounter. 

by Caroline Madden

Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day AfternoonBaby It’s YouInside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. 

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