All the Light We Cannot See has me all excited because it is brilliant – an outstanding mini series. It’s based on the novel by Anthony Doerr. Yes, I know the book is always better. But this series is simply excellent in every way that good television can be excellent. The performances, the cinematography, the music, the writing, the locations – everything worked together with perfection.
All the Light We Cannot See is set in German occupied France during World War II. The story is about a French family of resistance fighters and a couple of German soldiers who cross their paths in significant ways.
The story is told in non linear order using flashbacks. I’ll summarize the plot in time order. Daniel LeBlanc (Mark Ruffalo) works in a Paris museum. He’s in charge of the jewel collection. They hold a large diamond called the Sea of Flames. It’s the biggest jewel in France and supposedly cursed.
Daniel’s daughter Marie-Laure (Nell Sutton as a child and Aria Mia Loberti as a young woman) is blind. Both Nell Sutton and Aria Mia Loberti are blind and neither had any acting training going into this. Both performances are excellent.
Daniel teaches Marie-Laure how to get around by building scale models of streets and buildings and teaching her how to find her way. When Paris is occupied by the Germans, Daniel takes Marie-Laure to Saint-Malo, a walled town on the coast. His uncle Etienne LeBlanc (Hugh Laurie) and his aunt Madame Manec (Marion Bailey) live there and take them in.
Marie-Laure’s favorite pastime as a child in Paris was to listen to The Professor on the shortwave radio as he talked about science and life and ideas.
In Germany, Werner (Louis Hofmann) and his sister Jutta (Luna Wedler) also listened to The Professor in the orphanage on crude radios Werner built himself. It was dangerous for these two German children to be listening to French radio broadcasts, but Werner in particular could not resist.
Werner’s expertise with radios brought him to the attention of the German army and he was put in a uniform and trained to find the locations of radio transmitters in places like Saint-Malo where his beloved Professor’s shortwave channel was still in operation.
Finally, add Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) to the scene in Saint-Malo. He was chasing down the Sea of Flames because he believed that it could cure his illness. The blind girl was his clue to its whereabouts.
The interplay and interactions between the resistance fighters (one of them blind) and the Germans (one of them who did NOT want to find and destroy a certain transmitter) formed the heart and action of the story.
Releasing All the Light We Cannot See at this moment in time is a stroke of good luck. The rise of evil and Nazism in the current world is a replica of what happened in Germany during that time. The power of love and hope and resistance won against evil then, and we need to hold on to the love, hope, and resistance needed to defeat it again. The parallels are clearly there for those who are willing to see.
If the daily news from around the world and within our own country does not remind you, this series will help you visualize the evil and insanity of war. Humans can be brutal. Humans can also hold on to love and fight for peace. The characters in this series are the latter kind of humans.
The mini series on Netflix was directed by Shawn Levy. I’ve liked some of Levy’s past work such as Free Guy and Stranger Things, but this tops them all. Adaptations of books as complex as the basis for this one are hard. So much gets left out. But the series succeeds quite well. I found it thoughtfully written and well worth watching. Maybe more than once.
If you take a look at this series, please share your reactions in the comments.