Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See envokes themes of finding hope in overwhelming darkness by interlacing two stories of unrelated children.
While the book’s new Netflix miniseries adaptation captures some of this original magic, it fails to hold up to the novel.
All The Light We Cannot See is told from two perspectives during World War II — a blind French girl, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, and a German orphan turned Nazi soldier, Werner Pfennig.
Their paths don’t intertwine until the end of the miniseries’ second episode, when a radio program they listened to as children unknowingly connects them and helps them navigate the darkness they face in their individual circumstances.
While most war films focus more on death and tragedy, All the Light We Cannot See develops a unique theme of hope that focuses on the unwavering courage of two individuals.
The miniseries begins in the middle of the action when a town in France called Saint-Malo is bombed. Visual aspects of this scene the book can’t capture such as intense sound effects and grim cinematography bring the opening sequence to life.
“The most important light is the light you cannot see,” is repeated multiple times throughout the miniseries — it gave me chills every time. The phrase highlights that there is so much to life that goes unnoticed, and while it’s difficult to recognize positivity amid horrid violence, it’s there. The idea that hope is never lost is an inspiring message to all.
Director Shawn Levy, who helped direct the Stranger Things and Night at the Museum franchises, and writer Steven Knight, the mind behind Peaky Blinders, made stylistic choices that deviated from the novel’s original plot. While some were smaller changes such as additional characters, the miniseries included some bigger adjustments that altered the ending and structure.
The miniseries focused more on Saint-Malo in 1944, with flashbacks of Marie-Laure and Werner’s life thrown in throughout the episodes instead of alternating between the past and present like in the novel.
While transitions in the show were smoother than in the book, the novel’s focus on the characters’ childhoods helped convey their decisions in the present as vulnerable and understandable.
The miniseries came together in the end, and the breakdown of the book into four one-hour long episodes made the heavy content an easier watch.
The cast brought the story to life. Louis Hofmann gives a dramatic performance as Werner — a conflicted young boy trying to survive. But the star of the miniseries, Aria Mia Loberti, stole the show portraying Marie-Laure’s unwavering courage in the face of her physical limitations.
Like her character, Loberti is legally blind. All the Light We Cannot See is her first professional acting gig — and she gives a brilliant performance. Through the miniseries, Marie-Laure displays resilience as she refuses to give up on her family and herself.
At times, watching Marie-Laure and Werner in 1944 didn’t have the same effect as it did when I read the book. The audience doesn’t fully understand their backstories yet, so it’s hard to become invested in the present-day characters. Knight and Levy failed to treat the flashbacks with the importance they deserve, leading to a lack in crucial character building.
From the book, the ending was one of the biggest changes. The miniseries’ end focused more on redemption, providing closure and a happy ending with Werner planning to reunite with his sister, and Marie-Laure joining the streets in celebration.
The novel ends more emotionally and emphasizes all of the book’s themes in a conclusive way. Making the ending more feel-good was cliche and felt like a lazy decision I could’ve gone without.
But Levy, Knight and Doerr explained to Entertainment Weekly they wanted to leave the audience with a “feeling of resolution” to satisfy book fans that have been yearning for a happy ending.
“We imagined what might have happened and what certainly I, on some level, wanted to happen,” Levy said in the interview. “It’s an expression of that connection that feels like destiny come to fruition.”
On its own, the miniseries had all the elements I typically enjoy — romance, a strong cast, powerful cinematography and a captivating plot. But some changes may leave book fans disappointed. Despite its flaws, it’s still a unique love story with a heartwarming ending of redemption and is worth the watch.