All the Light We Cannot See, the Pulitzer-winning book written by Anthony Doerr, has finally been adapted for the screen and is available on Netflix to stream. The four-episodic miniseries is the story of Marie LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig’s self-discovery as the German occupation intensifies in Nazi-occupied France and other parts of Europe. The book and the show had a limited number of characters, but all had an arc that took them through a transformative journey amidst the Second World War as the Nazi occupation got aggressive but human conscience became better.
Marie-Laure LeBlanc in the book and the show was a French blind girl. Her father, Daniel LeBlanc, taught her to navigate around Paris based on the model of the city he made for her. Marie LeBlanc, from a young age, was addicted to a frequency on her radio that imparted knowledge about science and geography. As Marie grew older, living in Paris became difficult because the occupation by the German Army was imminent. Marie and her father left the city and moved to Saint-Malo, a journey that was filled with uncertainty. Marie was a well-adjusted person, and she knew her father would never leave her to fend for herself, which made her inherently a confident person.
On reaching Saint-Malo, the girl took it upon herself to become part of the household as the two lived with his uncle Etienne and Aunt Madame Manec. Marie unfortunately had to part ways with her father because of his work-related commitments. The young girl blended in with the town people quickly. She was a social person despite her impaired vision, and she learned of the ‘Old Ladies Resistance Group’ from her aunt Madame Manec. She was fascinated by the kind of work carried out by the women of the town to damage the German administration. She volunteered for the cause even though it took years for the resistance to take shape.
Marie used her specially-abled albitites to help the resistance by delivering bread loaves with messages. Madame Manec eventually died, and Uncle Etienne disappeared. She had to live her life alone, and the story moved to the bombing of the island by the Americans. She began reading a book on the radio and always ended her broadcast by delivering a message to her father, asking if he was alive and listening to her voice. Marie barely survived the bombing and von Rumpel’s attempt to attack her. He revealed his role in her father’s death, which forced her to kill him. Von Rumpel could not find the diamond he was seeking at Marie’s home, but she found the stone inside the model of Saint-Malo made by her father. She threw it away into the sea as a symbol of her letting go of things that caused her pain and loss. Marie went through many ups and downs throughout her stay in Saint-Malo, but she triumphed and remained alive until the end of the show.
The life of Werner Pfennig was very different from the one Marie led. Even though he and his sister Jutta were raised in an orphanage in Germany, they lived quite a sheltered life. Werner, from a young age, was interested in working with the radio, tinkering the device and listening to the broadcasts. Werner was a gifted adolescent who drew the attention of several army officers stationed near his orphanage. They tested his skills on a faulty radio, and he passed successfully. His sister was against Werner listening to illegal broadcasts from across the border, but he remained fascinated by the voice that spoke about the truths of life and nature in general through the radio. He didn’t realize that across the border, Marie was listening to the same frequency. His admission to Schulpforta, a Nazi political school, was purely based on his skills and his age, but the training was brutal.
Werner was deeply affected by the kind of knowledge and prejudices that were being imparted. Werner was forced to join the army. His travels with the army took him to the island of Saint-Malo, where he searched for illegal broadcasts and put an end to them. Werner somehow got addicted to the old frequency he used to listen to as a kid, and he was fascinated by the young woman running it. Werner was at a point in his life, he could barely trust his compatriots or seniors because he knew whatever they were up to was evil and not justifiable to him. Werner was keen to find out who Marie was. Werner sadly witnesses Uncle Etienne’s death who requests him to let Marie know about her role in making him get out of the cage of his fear. Werner and Marie survived the ordeal, but sadly, the young boy, despite his loyalty towards Marie and the rescued population, got arrested by the American soldiers.
Reinhold von Rumpel
Reinhold von Rumpel was the typical antagonist in the miniseries, with no redeeming qualities till the end. Reinhold was assigned by the German administration to travel across Europe and collect gemstones for the government in Berlin. Reinhold was a jeweler by profession, and this job could not have come at a better time for him. Reinhold, despite being good at his job, was seeking one particular diamond, ‘Sea of Flames’. As per the legend he heard, the diamond would curse the family of the person who possessed it, but the person obtaining the stone would attain immortality. Reinhold was carried away by the myth because he was suffering from cancer, and he needed this precious stone for his own sake. The miniseries began with Reinhold in Saint-Malo. He utilized all his powers as a Reich army officer to get closer to Marie LeBlanc. Most of the residents of Saint-Malo did not help him or refused to recognize Marie for some reason, and the man was losing patience. The island was relentlessly being bombed by Americans and Britishers, and his desperation was palpable. Reinhold was under the impression that his uniform would give him the power to intimidate others. Since the Germans were close to being defeated at the war front, Reinhold wasn’t willing to accept the loss at the hands of a young French girl. This could be because of the constant brainwashing every German person was put through under the regime, which led them to believe they were invincible and superior.
Reinhold is eventually helped to locate Marie by a prostitute. Even though he forcefully enters the home, Reinhold couldn’t get hold of her or the diamond. To further break her spirit, he reveals his role in her father’s death. Daniel, after being arrested by Reinhold in Paris, was forced to provide information regarding his daughter since he did not have the ‘Sea of Flames’ on him. A mortally wounded Reinhold was attacked by Werner, who arrived to rescue Marie. The deeply despondent Marie kills Reinhold. This was a fitting reply because he was the reason why her father was not alive. Destiny gave her the chance to kill the enemy, and Marie took advantage of it. Reinhold von Rumpel was a despicable man who, in the light of adversity, could not look beyond his selfish needs. Instead of approaching a medical professional, he was willing to believe in a cursed diamond.
Uncle Etienne is a crucial character who plays an important role in Marie and Daniel’s lives. Daniel and his daughter had decided to leave Paris in the wake of the German invasion of France. They moved to the island of Saint-Malo because Daniel’s family was willing to help them. Etienne was Daniel’s uncle, and he was a First World War veteran who had been suffering from PTSD for the past many years. Uncle Etienne and his sister, Madame Manec, were more than happy to take Daniel and Marie into their home. Etienne spent a lot of time on the radio, receiving messages from broadcasts from England, and he was instrumental in running the ‘Old Ladies’ Resistance Club’. A blind Marie was quick to recognize his voice from the frequency she always spent time listening to in Paris. She was in utter shock to learn that her immediate family played an important role in shaping her mind and knowledge. Etienne spent all his time at home and refused to go out owing to his PTSD flashbacks. Marie encouraged Etienne to help her become a part of the resistance group run by Madame Manec.
Marie’s words had a profound impact on him, and they began delivering messages to the local bakery. The duo was suspected a few times, but Marie’s blindness acted like a safety cushion. Madame Manec’s death put Etienne into depression for a while. He lost another family member after Daniel disappeared. The bombing of Saint-Malo separated Marie from her uncle Etienne because the townspeople needed to be rescued. Etienne and Werner were willing to help run the resistance, but it was too late for either of them. Etienne tried his level best to keep a mesmerized Werner away from Marie. Etienne wanted to successfully run Madame Manec’s work until the last moment, but an incoming bomb killed him. Werner was trying to place the voice while conversing with Etienne. Etienne eventually revealed he was the professor Werner heard on the radio years ago. He made this revelation just before the bomb was dropped. Werner didn’t get any time with him to convey the role Etienne played in shaping his perspective of the world. Etienne died bravely by overcoming his biggest demon. Uncle Etienne would have been a great parental figure to Marie in the show; unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see her grow up.