In the final days of WWII, the paths of a blind French girl and a German soldier collide. Based on Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller.
Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “All the Light We Cannot See” gets lost in translation from page to screen in this hackneyed and surface-level adaptation from screenwriter Steven Knight and director Shawn Levy. Any insight into the human condition is traded away in favor of underdeveloped characters who speak in on-the-nose metaphors; World War II atrocities play out like superhero movies stuffed with cheap thrills and big explosions.
When it was published in 2014, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See emerged as an unexpected breakout book of the year, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, spending more than 200 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and selling more than 15 million copies worldwide. Nearly a decade later, a four-part limited series adaptation of the acclaimed historical epic has arrived on Netflix.
How Different is All the Light We Cannot See From its Book Version?
Netflix’s All the Light We Cannot See changes the fates of a number of main characters, including Daniel, Etienne, and Werner.
In the novel, which took Doerr 10 years to write, Daniel is arrested on suspicion of treason while attempting to return to Paris in late 1940. He is sent to a German prison camp and eventually dies there sometime after 1943. In the show, von Rumpel personally tortures and kills Daniel in an attempt to find out where he hid the Sea of Flames. In both the book and show, Daniel leaves the stone which is said to grant immortality to its owner at the cost of immense suffering to all their loved ones inside the scale model of Saint-Malo he built so that Marie-Laure could learn her way around the city.
While both book Etienne and show Etienne eventually overcome their fear of going outside in order to help Marie-Laure carry out acts of resistance against Saint-Malo’s German occupiers, the show kills off Etienne rather than having him end up in prison and ultimately reunites with Marie-Laure like in the book.
The series most drastically alters Werner’s storyline, which ends in the show soon after he rescues Marie-Laure from being killed by von Rumpel, rather than extending into the aftermath of the Battle of Saint-Malo. Similar to what happens in the show, the book sees Werner arrive in France with orders to track down the source of a French resistance transmission, only to realize the signal is being broadcast by the same man who voiced his beloved childhood radio program. Werner feigns an inability to hear the signal and, after hearing Marie-Laure’s pleas for help, saves her from death at von Rumpel’s hands.
Many of these narrative changes were made, according to Levy, in order to make the show “make sense on screen, on Netflix, for a global, mainstream audience in 2023.”