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Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well: The Short Film” stuns with her magical storytelling capabilities!

By Lucas Chia  /  08 Jan 2022 (Saturday)

If you’d told me back in 2012 that my favourite song was going to have an extended version, I’d laugh. If you’d told me that it was going to have a music video, I’d laugh even harder. Who knew that it was going to be more than I ever expected… a whole short film? My life is complete.

All Too Well: The Short Film is a romantic drama short film, written and directed by Taylor Swift herself along with cinematography by Rina Yang. Starring Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink, their characters are simply listed as “Him" and "Her” in the credits. 
Based on the 10-minute version of the fan-favourite track by Swift herself called All Too Well, the short film paints a picture of the circumstantial lyricism in this song, which has been heralded as one of Swift’s best.

This isn’t Swift’s first rodeo at filmmaking - in fact, she made her solo directorial debut in her music video for ‘The Man’ back in 2019. Quite appropriately, that video had similar intention to “f*** the patriarchy”, as we would find on the keychain O’Brien throws at Sink in the film.

The video begins with Her in awe, asking Him, “Are you real?”. She continues, “I don’t know, I just feel like maybe I made you up”. Travelling to upstate New York with Him, Her leaves the iconic red scarf at his sister’s house. Yang's gorgeous cinematography with rich autumnal colours and nostalgically moody tones really accentuates the cozy, comforting atmosphere that the relationship once had.

Here’s comes the highlight - the argument in the kitchen. Her accuses Him of dropping her hand during dinner, which ensues a caustic war of words between the couple. The entire argument lasts through one-take scene that evokes all sorts of emotions in viewers, thanks to how electric Sink and O’Brien were in this scene. This scene felt so uncomfortably real, almost as if I was intruding on a very private moment. 

”We couldn’t cut, we couldn’t edit. So there’s a very long one-take, one-camera shot that lasts for a very long time, and when you’re watching it, you don’t note that.” Swift reveals in her interview with Jimmy Fallon. "You don’t realise that because they are so magnetic."

This scene is the perfect example of gaslighting. Showcasing the blatant manipulative behaviour that Him imposes on Her. “I don’t think I’m making you feel that way, I think you’re making yourself feel that way”, he concludes - completely invalidating her feelings of hurt and distress.

During the second chorus, the film beautifully juxtaposes O’Brien’s character represented by the cold, blue light of the refrigerator with the warm, sunny rays on the other half of the frame which represented Sink’s affectionate and loving counterpart. 

The song’s bridge begins and Him is seen breaking up with Her and the exchange turns into an acrimonious dispute of screaming and crying. In this heartbreaking climax, Her sobs on her bed as she ignores her ringing phone.  Her tries to comprehend her heartbreak through writing, but to no avail as she crumples up the piece of paper - just like he did with her.

The film continues to illustrate how much heartbreak can affect us and the world around. Sink is extremely relatable with her subtle expressions conveying her insecurity, discomfort and sorrow in the following scenes.
As the final chorus comes to an end, an agonisingly poignant supercut of all their highs and lows in their now-collapsed relationship plays. I can guarantee you - it is absolutely devastating.

The film flashes forward 13 years, as Swift takes on the role of “Her, Later on”. Her is shown to be all grown up and is now an author attending a signing event for her book.
An interesting detail is how the film is divided into sections, titled:
An Upstate Escape
The First Crack in the Glass 
Are you real?
The Breaking Point
The Reeling
The Remembering
Thirteen Years Gone 

This is most likely an allusion to the novel, also titled "All Too Well”, that Swift is shown as the writer of at the end of the film. And of course, the book’s cover features a dead tree with a red scarf hanging from its branches. Ha.

Swift is known for her witty ventures at placing Easter eggs for her fans to find. Brad Nelson, a writer from The Atlantic, brilliantly describes the iconic scarf as a Chekhov’s gun. It pops up in the lyrics and in the film where the younger Swift leaves her red scarf on a banister. It makes its reappearance in the film’s coda where O’Brien’s character is seen with it around his neck as he gazes at Her through a window. He then walks off into the snowy distance as the short film concludes with the song’s haunting outro. 

Some might say that the plot here is a little predictable and cliché, but when its executed this masterfully its hard to be a wet blanket.
Swift’s magnum opus is now accompanied by a brilliant showing of young love falling apart in the midst of toxicity, and it is a paradigm of how visuals can elevate the catharsis we get from listening to music.

Watch All Too Well: The Short Film on YouTube here.
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