The Decoding of 13 Hidden Messages In The ‘All Too Well’ Short Film

A breakdown of Taylor Swift’s music video for her new re-recorded hit

Taylor Swift

Mollie Banstetter, Layout Editor of The Ledger

It’s been a while since Taylor Swift released her re-recording of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” along with the release of the “All Too Well (10-minute version)” short film. The 14-minute music video, full of hidden messages and allusions, left her fans scrambling to decode every little detail. By now, I am sure that rewatching the video has been an emotional rollercoaster that will have to be talked about in a therapy session. So with the help of this story, decoding some of Swift’s sneaky hidden messages will ease your mind. 

I would like to believe that if you’re reading this story you know the gist of the song, but just in case, here’s my elevator summary: around 10 years ago, Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal (local scarf stealer) dated for three months. Swift was 20 and Gyllenhaal was 29. They dated, she left her scarf at Gyllenhaal’s sister’s house, he didn’t go to her 21’st birthday party, they broke up and he may or may not still have her scarf…the jury is out on that last point. After this breakup, Swift has gifted us many bangers, this one being the easiest to link to the relationship. 

After rewatching the music video many, many times in the name of journalism, and scouring the internet to present you with what I believe to be the 13 best and most important hidden details.

The signs point to Jake

Swift cast Dylan O’Brien, age 30, to play the male love interest, and Sadie Sink, age 19, to play the female love interest. Sink is supposed to represent Swift, and many fans speculate this song is about Gyllenhaal, who was 29 when the pair was together, the similar age difference between the actors could be a signal of confirmation. Many fans believe that Swift cast these two intentionally to make the audience uncomfortable regarding the noticeable age difference, especially when the songs have lyrics that say, “And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes, ‘I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age,’” as well as “You said if we had been closer in age, maybe it would have been fine.”

When the couple walks into the male love interest’s family home, eyes are pulled to a quick shot of a window by the stairs. The small stained glass window has a design that closely resembles the Gyllenhaal family crest, once again another clue to who exactly the song is about.

The infamous red scarf. Of course, I couldn’t mention “All Too Well” and Gyllenhaal without mentioning the red scarf. It’s speculated that the scarf Swift wore in paparazzi photos where she was spotted with Gyllenhaal is the scarf she left at Maggie Gyllenhaal’s according to the song. 

In scenes of the video, the couple can be seen strolling around with smiles on their faces just like one of the first paparazzi images that pop up when you search “Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal.” Again, just another hint that Swift is indeed talking about that relationship. 

During the chapter of the short film, we see O’brien’s character first, as he sauntered down the sidewalk. This visual implies that the flashback scenes we see in this chapter are him remembering the relationship. During one of the flashback scenes we see the two characters share a kiss, one that the male love interest initiates, the kiss looks a lot like the iconic Spiderman kiss in the Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst version. In the movie Dunst’s character, MJ kisses Spiderman to see if there are any sparks between them two, in their case, there were. This may seem just like a trivial easter egg to a popular movie until a) you remember it’s Taylor Swift and absolutely nothing is by accident, and b) that Gyllenhaal and Dunst started dating in 2002, and had a relationship for two years, they even shared a home and a pet dog. Once you look more closely at it, you could see that Swift may be implying that not only is this song about Gyllenhaal but that she feels like he was trying to recreate what he had with Dunst, with Swift.

The Lighting 

In the scene where the couple is dancing in the kitchen, there are two key visuals in the background: the open refrigerator and the golden glowing window. Right behind O’Brien’s character, the refrigerator door is open, it’s cold blue light seeping out into the dark kitchen. This imagery could represent how Swift felt her beau had a cold demeanor as opposed to her warm and welcoming demeanor, hence the golden window behind Sink’s character. 

The Chapters

The video is separated into five different sections; the upstate escape, the breaking point, the reeling, the remembering and 13 years gone. Each section represents different chapters of her relationship, alluding to the reveal in the last chapter, that this retelling was all for the protagonist’s (Sink’s character) autobiographical book. 

The Rearview

During a scene in the male love interest’s car, we get a shot of the protagonist’s face in the rearview mirror. Although it’s a quick three-second shot, seeing as this was directed by Swift, it’s obvious that its meaning is deeper than it may seem. I believe that this shot is to represent that her character will soon be a part of his past, a failed relationship that they both just look back on. Swift of course lyrically uses this imagery in her other songs such as “White Horse,” “Long Story Short,” “Wildest Dreams” and “Style.”

The Kitchen Argument

In the middle of the video, the music stops as the characters begin an argument in the kitchen. Within this scene, there is plenty to unpack. 

Within this scene Sink’s character shares her frustration over O’Brien’s character dropping her hand in the previous scene. She yells at the male love interest, saying “you dropped my…hand!” As soon as she said this, I remembered a lyric, not from that song but from “Champagne Problems” from her album “Evermore,” “Because I dropped your hand while dancing / Left you out there standing / Crestfallen on the landing / Champagne problems.” The way O’Brien’s character reacted, claiming he doesn’t remember the moment she’s referring to, showing that it meant so little to him, it was a champagne problem for him.

As the couple is having this discussion, Sink’s character is cleaning the dishes as O’Brien’s character keeps handing her dirty dishes, not helping but just adding onto her pile. This visual brought me back to the lyrics in her song ‘Tolerate It” from her album: “I take your indiscretions all in good fun / I sit and listen / I polish plates until they gleam and glisten / You’re so much older and wiser.” She’s telling him that him dropping her hand was a big deal to her, and as he’s brushing it off calling her selfish, as she’s cleaning up the mess all by herself. 

The Book

In the final chapter of the short film, the main character, 13 years later (played by Swift herself) is at her book launch, the book of course being titled “All Too Well.” The short scene where we see the cover of the books on the table immediately reminded me of the cover of  “The Giving Tree’.’ Like the cover of Swift’s book, Shel Silverstein’s book cover is an illustration of a tree with an extended arm. However, on Swift’s cover, the extended arm bears a red scarf. The cover illustration is just another visual insight into the relationship she is sharing with us. The cover is implying that Swift felt like her relationship was very one-sided, she gave everything she could to the relationship until she was left with nothing else. 

The Next Re-Recording

Within the short film, there were details that pointed to “Speak Now” being the next re-recorded album…but there was an obvious detail linked to “1989” as well. 

Starting with “Speak Now,” the most obvious detail being the fact that the short film/relationship is divided into chapters just like the song “Story of Us.” During the chapter of the short film, “The Reeling,” Sink’s character is seen curled up in her bed wearing the same flannel O’Brien’s character was previously wearing. This visual can be linked to the line in the song “Last Kiss”: “But I’ll go sit on the floor wearing your clothes / All that I know is I don’t know how to be something you miss.”

The most notable and obvious detail linked to her album “1989” is the opening shot, a visual of the trees from a person’s point of view as if they were looking up at the sky, the same visual from the “Out of the Woods” music video. 

Although it is still quite unclear what the next album will be, it’s clear swifties are ready to re-listen, re-experience and observe every action with careful eyes.