All Too Poignantly Real: Critiquing Taylor Swift’s Short Film “All Too Well”
Updated: Feb 18
By Annika Baldwin
taylorswift / Instagram
If you’re a Swiftie, then you know that Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” music video, starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, was released on November 12. Fans and critics alike believe that the video (and the song) tells a reminiscent story of Swift’s past relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal.
According to Swift, she immediately knew that she wanted Sadie and Dylan for the film. She texted them the song (before anyone else had heard the new version), the script and the visual notes, and she let them decide whether to accept her offer. The decision was fairly immediate for both of the actors as they accepted, much to Swift’srelief as, “I didn't have backups in mind.”
The film details a semi-toxic relationship that degrades between two lovers. It is packed with good points that come with any relationship, as well as the pain.
Sadie and Dylan are brilliant in their acting, emotion and subtle impressions of Swift and Gyllenhaal. The song lyrics are clever, sweet and passionate. Swift’s acting may be sub-par at times in her career, but her directing and songwriting skills are undeniably exceptional. She has outdone herself with “All Too Well,” so let’s dive into the story and the lyrics.
Taylor Swift / Youtube
The film is a mix of beautiful memories and sweet moments with gaslighting and intense heartbreak.
Swift breaks the short into sections from “An Upstate Escape” to “The First Crack in the Glass” to “The Breaking Point” and “The Reeling.” One of the most beautiful scenes of the film, “An Upstate Escape,” is set in autumnal woods as Sadie’s character jumps onto Dylan’s back. He carries her as she cuddles into his shoulder, kissing his cheek.
Scenes such as these are juxtaposed with the scene where Sadie tries to express her feelings about Dylan’s behavior in front of his friends. Her feelings are dismissed, being turned against her. Instead, she is painted as the selfish girlfriend in the situation. The conversation is brushed under the rug, and the age gap between them seems to be a large straining factor.
Sadie’s youthful appearance is unsettling at first next to Dylan’s older quality. But this is intentional, considering Swift and Gyllenhaal’s age gap in real life. The video hints that this was a major reason for their breakup.
The cinematography is stunning; the colors subtly pop, and the angles are intimate, as heartbreaking as the lyrics and the acting.
Sadie Sink’s performance is incredible. Her portrayal of heartbreak is so stunningly acted that it resonates with every viewer. Her sobbing moments are as unforced as true emotion.
Swift brings the story full-circle by having thirteen years pass and emerging as the older version of Sadie’s character, presenting her book “All Too Well” typed on Sadie’s typewriter during the “Reeling.”
It is an incredible story that shows that even a toxic relationship is weighted with beautiful moments that are caught within the webs of our mind.
Taylor Swift / Youtube
Analyzing Swift’s short film wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at her lyrics.
“Taylor’s Version” of “All Too Well” presents a 10 minute original draft of the beloved song, which includes a collection of heartbreaking stanzas that never made it to the album back in 2012.
“And there we are again when nobody had to know
You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath.”
When in public or around friends, Dylan’s character seems to ignore Sadie and brush her off. This new line of the song floats over top of them curled up in bed together, him having switched back to being loving again. Sadie’s (and Swift’s) attachment to the relationship appears to be greater.
“The idea you had of me, who was she?
A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you
Not weepin' in a party bathroom
Some actress askin' me what happened, you
That's what happened, you.”
This stanza doesn’t seem to directly relate to what appears in the video; instead, audiences are given a tidbit of Swift’s own life. Viewers can glimpse the image of young Taylor Swift crying backstage at, say, an awards show.
Any person who has ever felt that they were too “needy” when all they wanted was to express their love will relate to this line.
Lastly, the snarky and clever line:
“And I was never good at tellin' jokes, but the punch line goes
‘I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age.’”
It has been noticed that Gyllenhaal, now age 40, continues to date twenty-year-olds. It is believed that this added stanza is a direct shot at Gyllenhaal and his (plausibly toxic) dating behaviors.
Taylor Swift / Youtube
Swift excels at painting worlds with her words- stories and emotions that listeners resonate with. Combined with the film and the acting, “All Too Well” is all too real. Even someone who has never heard the song or been a “Swiftie” will find themselves swept up in the whirlwind that is Taylor Swift.
Swift has truly outdone herself, creating a film, from her own heartbreak, that deserves a short film award.