Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well: The Short Film’

A melancholy portrait of love and loss

Kennedy Bustos, Managing Editor

On Nov. 12, Taylor Swift released the highly anticipated “All Too Well: The Short Film,” a stunning visual accompaniment to her highly anticipated re-release of “Red.” 

“All Too Well,” despite not being one of the seven singles stemming from the album’s original 2012 release, is a favorite amongst Taylor Swift fans. The heart-wrenchingly honest ballad recounts the painful nostalgia integral to the process of heartbreak healing. The ballad is akin to diary pages frantically scrawled in the chilling hours before dawn, smudged polaroids whose vibrancy outlive the love they froze in time. 

Verse by verse, chorus by chorus, Swift guides the listeners through the blissful highs and agonizing lows of the relationship. The brutal honesty woven through the lyrics is one of many reasons “Swifties” gravitate toward the song. The listeners are not mere observers from the sidelines: they become a piece of the puzzle, a vessel of the broken heart. The ten-minute version of “All Too Well,” another highly anticipated addition to the “Red” re-release, adds a cascade of layers to an already complex tale — and with those layers, a window into the relationship flies open with reckless abandon.

“All Too Well: The Short Film,” directed by Swift herself, elevates the storytelling of the ten-minute lyrical masterpiece to soaring heights. Starring Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink, the film chronicles the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of a relationship. O’Brien and Sink’s characters are known as “Him” and “Her,” respectively. The stylistic choice to leave the duo without monikers is undoubtedly intentional, as it once again allows the viewers to insert themselves into the lovers’ narrative. The short film consists of seven chapters, monumental moments and memories in sequential order: “An Upstate Escape,” “The First Crack in the Glass,” “Are You Real?,” “The Breaking Point,” “The Reeling,” “The Remembering” and epilogue “Thirteen Years Gone.” 

Setting the tonal atmosphere, the film begins by introducing a poignant quote from Pablo Neruda: “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” This quote encapsulates the mantra reverberating through the record: “I remember it all too well.” It embodies the quiet, painful sort of nostalgia when looking back at past relationships: the memories and their intricate web of emotions are a souvenir from a trip down memory lane. 

In the introductory scene, “Him” and “Her” are entwined in each other’s arms, clearly enraptured by each other’s presence. Yet, an essence of apprehension is already infiltrating the initial relationship euphoria: “Are you for real? I don’t know, I just feel like I made you up.” When all you’ve known is heartbreak, it’s a natural reaction to doubt your blessings — after all, some things in life are too good to be true. 

The scenes within the film are juxtaposed in synchrony with the relationship’s rollercoaster of emotions. The first chapter details the subtle yet meaningful idiosyncrasies occupying the honeymoon phase of the relationship. “Him” and “Her” take a scenic drive, surrounded by towering trees and autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place. The symbolism of autumn emphasizes the change — both welcome and unwelcome — that will ultimately ensue as the relationship unfolds. The private, unseen moments bleeding with intimacy: stolen gazes, hands intertwined, absentminded kisses. The quiet calm before the deadly storm, the blissful rush before the lethal rage: ultimately escalating to “The First Crack in the Glass.” 

As the cinematic couple share a lively dinner with friends, she lovingly reaches for his hand and faces a casually cruel rejection. He condescendingly pats her hand as if she’s a restless pet; she is visibly shaken, emotion dangerously simmering beneath the surface. From this scene onward, both the lyrics and the scenery take a dramatic turn. While the tale began as innocent remembrances, it slowly transforms into a passionate tirade brimming with angst and all the words previously left unsaid. 

The post-dinner kitchen scene is the pivotal moment in which the short film reaches its climax. As the couple cleans up, the tension builds as O’Brien’s character asks: “Why are you so pissed off? You’re acting pissed off … it’s ridiculous.” His immediate invalidation of her emotions is familiar to those who’ve experienced toxic relationships: the blame for the tension is suddenly placed on her shoulders despite his actions clearly being the catalyst. 

The argument brews with intensity, voices raising and expletives floating through the air. “Him” absolves himself of any responsibility in the heated conflict, declaring, “I don’t think I’m making you feel that way. I think you’re making yourself feel that way.” “Her” responds to his continual verbal beratement with grace — a grace that, frankly, he does not deserve — until, at last, she bursts into tears. He feigns remorse, repeating “I’m sorry” over and over as if it were some sort of sacred prayer; as they sway in the kitchen, the smile doesn’t quite meet her eyes. 

As the relationship slowly meets its inevitable end, “Her” is left to grapple with the emotional aftermath. How do you reckon with the fact that love isn’t enough to keep a relationship from falling apart? How do you rediscover your identity after becoming the person someone else wanted you to be? How do you start the next chapter when the pages are sticking together?

In the final scene of the short film, “Thirteen Years Later,” Swift at last appears as an older version of “Her.” “Her,” like Swift herself, has transformed her pain into passion, her heartbreak into art. She’s novelized her tale, reinforcing the foundational theme that she’ll remember it all too well. As her former lover haunts the streets, a kaleidoscope of memories pass through his mind. He, too, remembers it all too well.

A melancholy portrait of love and loss, “All Too Well: A Short Film” lives up to the anticipation.