Netflix’s take on All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr’s celebrated 2014 novel, dropped in full on Thursday — with some noticeable changes to the source material.
The four-episode miniseries focuses on the interwoven journeys of Marie-Laure (Aria Mia Loberti), a blind teenager in France, and Werner (Louis Hofmann), a German soldier, during World War II. Marie-Laure and Werner’s paths finally cross in person during the limited series’ finale, though the events that take place before and after their meeting deviate quite substantially from the beats of Doerr’s book. Let’s break down the biggest changes:
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VON RUMPEL’S DEMISE | In the novel, Sgt. Maj. Reinhold von Rumpel (played to villainous perfection in the series by Lars Eidinger) dies at the hands of Werner, who shoots the man at Etienne’s house. In the show, Werner and von Rumpel do encounter each other at Etienne’s house — von Rumpel has cornered Marie-Laure there in his pursuit of the Sea of Flames diamond; Werner has arrived at the house to rescue Marie-Laure — but Werner isn’t responsible for von Rumpel’s death. Instead, the men briefly tussle and Werner attempts to choke von Rumpel with a wire he pulled out of the parlor radio.
During their fight, they crash through the model of Saint-Malo, revealing the Sea of Flames that had been hidden inside. But before von Rumpel can kill Werner and/or grab the stone, Marie-Laure appears with a gun aimed at von Rumpel, and the sound of his footsteps creaking on the floor allows her to take perfect aim at his head, shooting and killing him.
Also, in another change, von Rumpel is the one to tell Marie-Laure exactly what happened to her father, which remains a mystery to her in the book. He reveals that Daniel had been taken into custody by the Gestapo in 1943 Paris, but even three hours of torture at von Rumpel’s hand wouldn’t get Daniel to give up Marie-Laure’s address (and, therefore, the location of the Sea of Flames). Thus, von Rumpel had shot Daniel in the back of the head.
ETIENNE’S DEATH | Marie-Laure’s uncle lives until the age of 82 in Doerr’s novel, having first been arrested and held at Fort National for some time during the war. “She and Etienne traveled while he could,” the book reads. “He bought himself two nice transistor radios, died gently in the bathtub at age eighty-two, and left her plenty of money.” In Netflix’s adaptation, though, Etienne is there with Werner when a bomb goes off from the American troops, trapping them under rubble in a cellar; he ultimately succumbs to his injuries, but tells Werner to let Marie-Laure know that a tiger is happier dead than in a cage. (Sniff!)
WERNER’S FATE | This one, I suppose, is left more to viewers’ imaginations than outright changed. In the novel, after his sweet first meeting with Marie-Laure, Werner is captured by American soldiers and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, where he later dies quite abruptly by stepping on a German landmine “set there by his own army three months before.”
In the miniseries’ finale, after von Rumpel’s death, Werner and Marie-Laure eat peaches together, bond over their mutual love for Etienne, and share a quiet, romantic dance and kiss. (That kiss is also new.) She offers to navigate him through Saint-Malo’s secret pathways and escort him to the city walls, but he refuses, saying she’ll be shot as a collaborator if she’s spotted with him. But he knows they’ll meet again via Marie-Laure’s radio broadcasts, and he promises to visit after the war ends if she wants that; she urges him to surrender to the American troops, because they’ll give him “boots and food, and a chance,” and that’s what he does. We don’t see Werner again after he’s taken into custody. (For the best, perhaps. His death in the novel is sudden and so sad.)
As for the Sea of Flames, the book version of Marie-Laure places the diamond inside a grotto to return it to the sea, which is the only way to break its supposed curse; she eventually gets the key to the grotto’s gate returned to her many years later after initially giving it to Werner. But in the series, after Werner is arrested by U.S. troops, Marie-Laure walks alone through a newly liberated Saint-Malo until she reaches the ocean, where she throws the Sea of Flames directly into the waves.
With that, I hand it over to you. What did you think of Netflix’s All the Light We Cannot See adaptation? Grade the full miniseries in our poll below, then drop a comment with more of your thoughts!
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