Taylor Swift Releases a Short Film Set to “All Too Well”

Taylor Swift’s recent “All Too Well: The Short Film,” which accompanied her 10-minute song of the same name, went viral on the internet.


Taylor Swift’s recent “All Too Well: The Short Film,” which accompanied her 10-minute song of the same name, went viral on the internet. (Courtesy of Twitter)

At midnight on Nov. 12, Taylor Swift released the re-recording of her fourth studio album “Red.” Along with new versions of all the original songs from the album, Swift released several new songs “from the vault” with the new record. One of these new tracks was the 10-minute long version of “All Too Well,” a longer recording of the song off the original album.

The next evening, Swift also released a short film — or, a very long music video — set to the new version of “All Too Well” starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. It sort of, well, broke the Internet.

The most titillating thing about the story for many fans is the speculation about how much of the story is based on real interactions between Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal, who she was dating before the release of “Red” in 2012. Swift seems to have deliberately cast Sink and O’Brien to represent the nine-year age gap between her and Gyllenhaal. Some of the newly added lyrics highlight the age difference as well. Swift bitterly looks back on the relationship in lines like, “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die” and “I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes / I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.” 

In the past fortnight, two main identifiable responses to the video have emerged. There are the fanatics who love everything Swift and consider this her magnum opus, and then there is the “Oh my god, she’s crazy” crowd, who just don’t get the hype nor the impulse to turn a relationship that ended over a decade ago into an almost 15-minute long short film. 

Many of my college friends are in the first category. My father is in the second. (“She’s telling on herself with this one,” he complains in the car ride home from the airport. He wants to hear Gyllenhaal’s side of things.) 

I don’t think it belongs in either category. Well, I do think this is probably Swift’s magnum opus. 

The original version of “All Too Well,” roughly five minutes long and released in 2012, has long been a fan favorite. It’s one of the strongest tracks on “Red.” When I first discovered the song in high school, lines like “And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest” had me hitting replay over and over again. And who wasn’t moved watching Swift perform the song on a grand piano at the Grammys in 2014? 

Now there are five more whole minutes to cry over and a short film to go along with this longer, more brutal version of the song. Swift is really swinging for the fences with this one.

But I will admit, after watching the video for the first time on the night of its release, I couldn’t help but think — is this really necessary? It’s not like anything about the “short film” (really, it’s just a music video) is particularly groundbreaking. The love story and subsequent breakup portrayed are pretty conventional. There are scenes of Sink and O’Brien kissing on a wooded trail, holding hands in the car, fighting in the kitchen — all fairly standard music video fare. To summarize the story: The couple takes a trip upstate. They fawn over each other. They host a dinner party and fight afterwards. They break up. Sink’s character cries. Years later, she releases a book inspired by the relationship. 

While the characters in the video are clearly not one-to-one representations of Swift and Gyllenhaal, it really does feel like the viewer is supposed to be thinking about the parallels between the fictional relationship and their real one. Most of the short film is set to the song like a typical music video, but there is also an argument between Sink and O’Brien’s characters after a dinner party. This scene is just dialogue with no music or score. While the fight scene in the kitchen played out, I found myself wondering, “Did he really say that? Did this actually happen?” I don’t know how thrilled Swift would be with her fans viewing her work through this lens, but she has to know that guessing and theorizing are inevitable. 

And if I’m honest, the speculation is what makes an otherwise unremarkable lovers’ spat into something worth re-watching. I would rather believe Swift is trying to recount the exact words she and Gyllenhaal exchanged during an argument ten years ago than have to admit her dialogue isn’t particularly memorable. Her writing is very on-the-nose, a weakness that often appears in her songwriting as well. I can almost always forgive her for it in song, but it’s more noticeable in script form. 

There are a couple of other things that I roll my eyes over as I re-watch the video. Sink’s character using a vintage typewriter for … aesthetics? Swift’s insistence on being in the video at the end as the grown-up version of Sink’s character. Sink and O’Brien doing a weird Spiderman-esque upside down kiss in one of the shots. (A reference to Gyllenhaal’s involvement in Marvel projects, perhaps?) 

But I think I am nitpicking. You kind of have to nitpick to find a real problem with this project. Sure, Swift hasn’t told a new and groundbreaking story of love and heartbreak with this short film. She didn’t accomplish that with the original version of “All Too Well.” The song — and the video — are compelling for their ordinariness. It’s the kind of love story that most people live through — falling in love with the wrong person when you are young and taking years to recover from it. And Sink and O’Brien are perfectly convincing in their roles. 

Overall, this isn’t the kind of video that I could see myself rewatching over and over. For one thing, it’s too long. But there are definitely people out there who will gain a lot of comfort from it. I can’t begrudge Swift for providing another outlet for emotional catharsis for her fans experiencing their own first heartbreaks. So, I guess I don’t know if I think this short film needs to exist. But I’m glad it does. Say what you will about her, but Swift is tapped into what her fans want, and people definitely wanted more of “All Too Well.”