I have long believed All Too Well to be one of the greatest breakup songs ever written, but Taylor Swift undisputedly solidifies this status with nothing less than a ten-minute-and-thirteen-second masterpiece.
Essential context: the tears that were shed throughout my teenage years with All Too Well acting as accompanying background music would probably be enough to fill several Olympic pools. Considering this, I knew that this particular release, almost twice as long as the original, was going to be quite the emotional experience, and here we are again because Ms Swift did not disappoint.
We got new verses. We got a hauntingly beautiful outro. We’re offered a deeper insight into the story: the complexities of pain, anger, vulnerability and nostalgia-ridden grief experienced at twenty-one and so wonderfully reimagined a decade later. If the original version of All Too Well was a carefully-crafted appeal to a lost lover’s better nature through some gentle yet poignant heartstring tugs, the 10 Minute Version threatens to plunge directly into the chest and use the heartstrings as dental floss. Swift delivers the crystal-clear message: you will remember me All Too Well™ – and it’s nothing short of thoroughly respectable brilliance.
This extended version paints a vivid picture of a pure and intense ‘twin flame’ connection only truly understood by both parties that ‘it was rare’ in retrospect (‘You never called it what it was / till we were gone and dead and buried’). I was curious to see how the bridge of all bridges would fall into the extended cut, but this version takes no prisoners and immediately marches into brand-new verses with a far more cutthroat mentality. With rose-tinted spectacles firmly off, Swift again references the now-infamous 21st birthday party, (‘But then he watched me watch the front door all night, willing you to come’ seemingly acts as a direct parallel to ‘I’ve got my eye on the door / Just waiting for you to walk in’ from another Red classic, The Moment I Knew) and the final line, ‘It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one’ convincingly acts as a sorrowful reminder of young love and loss.
The accompanying short film, Swift’s directorial debut, is equally as remarkable. Without praising an actor for simply… well, acting, it should be noted that Teen Wolf and The Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brian truly must have analysed Jake Gyllenhaal for this role and it shows, because everything from linguistic patterns to facial hair was absolutely spot on. Despite this solid performance, the standout star is unquestionably Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink for an exceedingly raw
and uncomfortably relatable portrayal of heartache in a young Swift.
Any intended implications of casting choice were not lost on fans: thirty-year-old O’Brien and nineteen-year-old Sink hold an eyebrow-raisingly similar age gap to Gylenhaal and Swift at the time of their three-month relationship in 2011. The initial confusion for those familiar with Sink’s notability as a teen actress is almost instantly replaced with a dull pang of realisation, as this version engages with the factor of questionable age difference in far more rigorous and nuanced way than the original.
A deep irony revealed through the passage of time is also explored, with ‘And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes / “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age”’ making a thinly-veiled reference to her ex’s conformity to the ageing-Hollywood-actor-who-dates-twenty-year-olds trope – in the most tasteful, T-Swift way, of course. The attention to detail and creative direction of the project is dutifully appreciated by the knowledgeable viewer, but the short film certainly holds its own as a sad, beautiful, tragic love affair and an impressive watch in its own right.
Verdict: Jake Gylenhaal may very well wish to stock up his bunker, because All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor Version) is going nowhere.
You can read Jessie Mearns’ review of the full Red (Taylor’s Version) album here
Feature Image: Sadie Sink via Instagram