Earlier this month Taylor Swift re-released her 2012 album Red. Spotlighting the release was the debut of a short film written and directed by Swift to accompany the extended version of fan-favourite track All Too Well.
The re-imagining of All Too Well is infused by a psychological undertow. The song and short film embody a reflective depth through its portrayal of the blossoming and deterioration of a relationship between a woman at the beginning of her twenties and a man in his thirties.
Taylor Swift’s re-release of All Too Well has provided young women who have experienced the messy heartbreak of dating an older man a long overdue catharsis.
The film commences with the quote from 1971 Nobel prize winner Pablo Neruda, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” It’s a statement which foreshadows the plot of the film, focusing on actors Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien re-creating the relationship and its subsequent breakdown.
A very personal reaction
The relationship so poignantly depicted by the actors is reportedly based on the three-month romance Swift shared with American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, in late 2010, when Swift was 20 and Gyllenhaal almost 30.
I was unprepared for the emotional surge and subsequent catharsis that digesting All Too Well evoked.
When viewing the short film, I was plunged into the rustic setting imbued with the disparate autumn leaves of amber, auburn, crimson and carmine which fell swiftly into the ice blue lake where the lovers had frolicked.
When Sadie, purportedly playing Swift’s doppelganger, gazed with both contentment and anxiety into the eyes of her older lover, the paradoxical emotions that insecure relationships can provoke came flooding back to me. Though the American location was foreign to me, the nature of the characters’ romantic dynamic was hauntingly familiar.
A few weeks ago, I asked my therapist this question: “Do you think it was crazy of me to be so upset over the breakdown with a guy I wasn’t with long enough to call my boyfriend when I was 19?”
During our time together, I went beyond putting this man on a pedestal – my perception of him was more fitting for placement on a throne.
He embodied everything that was new and exciting, personifying an idiosyncratic culture which, in retrospect, was just the other side of Sydney, though at the time seemed like he represented the underbelly of Amsterdam.
He had experienced things that I had fantasised about the year prior, when I was in Year 12. Travelling overseas, gigs, festivals, benders, cigarettes and art. It was not only his charismatic personality that I fell for; I wanted to be part of the cocktail of enlightenment and fun that was his world.
After a few months, when he brutally rejected me, I was devastated. It was a devastation as frustrating as it was desolating. As women we are taught to judge and calibrate our grieving over a breakup according to the length of the relationship. To exemplify this, in researching Taylor Swift’s relationship, I found multiple articles pointedly referring to her romance with Gyllenhaal’s as having lasted “ONLY three months”.
Gaslighting and sorrow
So, at 19 when I was curled in the same foetal position as depicted
by Sadie, I would gaslight myself in between tears, thinking ‘You should not be this upset’.
At 27, after experiencing a couple of longer, serious relationships, I still gaslight myself, thinking, ‘What the hell was that?’.
However, watching All Too Well play out a scene redolent of a chapter in my life nearly ten years ago, the short film began to reshape my perception. Swift’s lyrics and the imagery created an empathetic lens to view my past self.
At 19, was it realistic to think I could balance my own fluctuating emotions, not fully formed brain, against a beguiling, older hipster who represented the escape I had always wanted? Is it fair to think of myself as naïve or over emotional for reacting to a man who drew me in only to spit me back out?
Taylor Swift’s reclaiming of her past narrative has enabled me to reclaim my own, that of a lost and heartbroken 19-year-old girl.
Maybe I wasn’t crazy for being so hurt. Perhaps the true craziness lies in fully formed adults who cannot treat romantic partners respectfully.
In an interview on Late Night, Swift was asked by host Seth Meyers:
“How do you think the person feels, the person who the song is about?”
She responded: “I honestly haven’t thought about that.”
I hope women like myself can learn to prioritise their own healing over any judgement of their grief by others at the end of a relationship.