The Netflix adaptation of the beloved book All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent-looking series. If only the transition from page to the streaming screen could carry the completeness of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel pre-pandemic. It's a work of historical fiction that can be viewed differently now, nearly a decade after it was written.
To make matters worse, the final product hams up the melodrama to the where the viewer may gag from its saccharine aftertaste because of the clichéd characters, plotlines, and floundering in the moral gray area in a now racially charged and socially conscious world.
Netflix's All the Light We Cannot See Review and Plot Summary.
All the Light We Cannot See studies a harsh world through two "lenses during World War 2. One was seen through the ears, the other through the eyes, and both were thrown into circumstances beyond their control. One is Marie-Laure (the wonderful Aria Misa Loberti), a teenager who has been blind since the tender age of 6 years.
After she and her father, Daniel (Mark Ruffalo), failed to escape Paris before coming under Nazi control, they took refuge with Etienne (Hugh Laurie), Marie-LauMarie-Laure'scle and local hermit, in the beautiful seaside town of Sant-Malo. Etienne suffers from post-traumatic stress—something that was not diagnosable until decades later and was referred to as "shell shock" at the time—and leads a resistance to the Nazi takeover.
The other is a German boy, Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofmann), a prodigy who was pulled from an orphanage because of his skills in building and repairing radios, a highly sought-after skill in a war zone dependent on communication and detection. Werner is forced into a Nazi school for the gifted and molded into a soldier, then thrown into a war he doesn't understand.
All the Light We Cannot See is based on the beloved best-selling novel by Anthony Doerr.
The book uses a plot device of a diamond called the Sea of Flames, said to be cursed, to explore deeply layered themes. However, in the adaptation, the dichotomy of fate versus free will and honor versus disgrace are left to their own devices.
Instead, we have the character of Reinhold von Rumpel (played by Lars Eidinger) turned into a cartoonish figure searching for a gem because if it comes into your possession, you could live forever. The result is a story that abandons nuanced character studies into an adventure subplot that could be found in failed Indiana Jones sequel scripts.
Other subplots that could have added to the rich moral texture of the series, like a shockingly underused Felix Kammerer (All Quiet on the Western Front), are used for two things. One is to establish Hofmann's characters' intellect. The other is to create tension and suspense. However, the more complex ethical dilemma of the situation is stripped. The choice causes the scene to feel generic and cliched.
Is All the Light We Cannot See Good or Bad?
The story also loses the interesting sensory detail of Marie-Laure's story, which should be brought to life by considering the medium. The trade-off is a Life is Beautiful theme that lacks depth and poignancy. Even themes of imagination and the enduring power of love are only partially realized.
Is All the Light We Cannot See Worth Watching?
The frustration of All the Light We Cannot See is the fine production design and good performances, it's the story that fails. The adaptation had the potential to be something extraordinary but trades that away for classic storytelling pandering that's as old as time with a silver lining that's outdated.
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