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“All Too Well” The Short Film Is a Heart-Breaking Masterpiece

On June 18th, 2021 Taylor Swift announced that her next re-recorded project would be her 2012 chart-topping album Red (This NPR article explains why Swift is re-recording her old music). What fans didn’t know at the time was that the album would be accompanied by a short film based on the song “All Too Well.” The eventually released film is an emotional, talent-filled fourteen minutes shot on 35mm film.

what is “all too well” anyway?

Track five of the Red album, “All Too Well” is an emotional recount of Swift’s romantic relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. While Swift has never overtly confirmed the song’s origin, specific details make the subject pretty clear. Despite the track never being released as a single, it quickly became a fan-favorite. Many, including Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine, believe the song to be Swift’s best work to date. During a 2012 interview Taylor stated that “All Too Well” was the hardest song to write. She also casually threw in “it started out being probably like a ten minute song which you can’t put on an album and I had to filter it down,” and because nothing can be casual with Swifties, the craziness began. For a long time, rumors and debates surrounded this mysterious ‘10 minute version’ of “All Too Well.” Some believed it never really existed, while others begged Swift to give fans the full song. Years went by and most lost hope that this version would ever see the light of day. Until the aforementioned June 18th Instagram post. “This will be the first time you hear all 30 songs that were meant to go on Red– and hey, one of them is even ten minutes long.” Let’s just say that Twitter was set ablaze the moment eyes laid upon that sentence.

the short film

Five months was a long time to wait for this project, but it was definitely a worthwhile wait. A week before Red was to be released, Swift announced via Good Morning America and Instagram that “All Too Well— The Short Film” would be released the same day as the album. The film is essentially a music video for the ten minute track, with a bit of dialogue as well. Playing what we can presumably perceive as a young Taylor is Sadie Sink, of Stranger Things fame. Opposite Sadie is Dylan O’Brien, known for his work in Teen Wolf and The Maze Runner trilogy. Taylor herself plays an older version of Sadie’s character for the last few minutes, as well. So what specifically makes the film so great?

the aesthetic

This film is gorgeous. From the clothing, to the setting, to the lighting choices, the film has autumn written all over it. It feels like a nostalgic dreamscape— even in it’s darker moments, you can’t look away. Additionally, the film’s structure is essentially a direct visual representation of the song. The song lets us know that Taylor can picture these events— and now we can too. Sadie is wearing the infamous scarf before the two get lost upstate, dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light, etc. The visualization makes the events all too real.

the casting

Sadie Sink is 19 years old and Dylan O’Brien turned 30 in August. While they are both incredibly talented— this age difference is not a coincidence. While dating, Taylor and Jake were 20 and 29, respectively. Sadie and Dylan’s age gap is supposed to mirror this and intentionally makes viewers at least slightly uncomfortable. Despite this, their chemistry is insane and can easily be felt through the screen. They look at each other with pure love and they scream at each other with pure anger. Around the film’s three and a half minute mark, the music stops. What follows is a three minute fight scene that feels all too familiar to many viewers. The yelling, gaslighting, profanity— it all feels so real that it’s amazing that someone could have written such realistic dialogue. And that’s because nobody did. While guidelines were surely in place for the scene’s trajectory, the spoken dialogue was improvised by both Sink and O’Brien. Improv-ing during a scene while also maintaining chemistry and tension is not an easy feat and both actors do it impressively well.

the references to the album’s title track

Alongside the obvious nods to the “All Too Well” storyline, other references can be found within the film. During the section entitled “The Remembering,” a montage of flashbacks parallels the lyrics: “remembering him comes in flashbacks and echoes”— from the album’s title track. The characters are also seen working on a crossword puzzle— another subtle reference to “Red” the song and its lyrics: “fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there’s no right answer.” These “easter-egg” hints deepen Swift’s album as a whole, essentially confirming that the two songs are definitely about the same relationship. While Swifties were basically 100% sure that “All Too Well,” “Red,” and other songs including “State of Grace” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” are all about Gyllenhaal, getting a semi-confirmation from the singer is a rare treat.

What’s next?

The film’s ending strays away from what we know to be reality. In this fictionalized scene, Swift is an author who has written a book about her experiences in a toxic relationship. It’s very possible that this is just an artsy, visually-appealing way to end the video, but it could also be alluding to something else. Could a real novel be coming from Swift in the future?

Another point fans have been making about the future is the award-potential of the short film. According to Academy Award guidelines, the “All Too Well” Short Film is eligible to be submitted for Best Live Action Short Film. Due to it’s stunning nature and evocative acting, it’s not far-fetched to believe that the short film is oscar-worthy. However, it seems as though the cutoff dates will require us to wait until the 2023 nominations to see if an Oscar is in Swift’s future.

A premiere was held for the film on November 12th at the AMC Lincoln Square in New York City. Fans were hand-selected to attend and received a pack of tissues upon arrival. Songs from Red played on the screens which caused an intense, passionate singalong from excited fans. On the red carpet, Swift remarked that “These songs were mine years ago when they were written, now they’re ours— they’re shared.” After a screening of the film, Swift performed a live, acoustic version of the ten minute song. 

Now that the hype surrounding Red is beginning to die down, fans wonder what re-recorded project is coming next. Some speculate that the country-album Speak Now is coming sooner than we think, while others are convinced that 2014 pop album1989 is next on the list. No matter who is correct, the “All Too Well” Short Film proves that these releases are not necessarily limited to music. Are there other short films in the works? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Emily is a freshman at the University of Connecticut with a major in journalism. Besides writing, she can be found listening to music, baking, or taking walks around campus.
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