Is Netflix’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ Series Different From The Book? Major Changes Explained

All The Light We Cannot See, a Pulitzer-winning book by Anthony Doerr, finally got the miniseries treatment thanks to Netflix. The show was released on November 2, 2023, and fans of the book cannot wait for this Steven Knight adaptation. Directed by Shawn Levy, this four-part miniseries is about a French blind girl, a young German soldier, and their struggles through Nazi-occupied France a year before the war was over.


Spoilers Ahead

Is The Book About War Crimes Carried Out By The SS?

The Showmakers acquired the rights to the book, which is solely based on the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig as they navigate their lives through Nazi-occupied Europe and how events around them change their perspective of people. Marie-Laure LeBlanc was a blind French girl, while Werner was a gifted technician who loved working with any radio, crucial tech for broadcasting during the Second World War. All The Light We Cannot See is more about the young blood trying hard to resist the propaganda and survive, but the makers of the show made it about the cruelty of the Nazi party and the laws under their leader Adolf Hitler.


There is no dearth of films and television shows based on the war crimes committed by the German army before and during the Second World War. Director Shawn Levy and creator Steven Knight’s version of All The Light We Cannot See is based on how the SS was keen on squashing any kind of resistance and emphasizing how cruel these bunch of brainwashed men and women were. 

At its core, Anthony Doerr’s book was about the two leads, Marie and Werner, discovering themselves, and their journey as life kept throwing obstacles at them. Marie was never without her father until he left to complete a job assigned to him, and she had to live all her adult life without him around. His method of navigating around Paris and Saint-Malo helped her tremendously, but she always felt her father’s absence. The father and daughter were best friends who unfortunately got separated. Werner’s gift of working with the radio drew the attention of the army. His life in the army was harrowing, and it helped him understand that this war was futile. His journey through Europe made him loyal only to the uniform he wore and the country he served.


The four-part miniseries hardly covered these aspects of the book, which would have helped the audience understand why Werner was keen on doing the right thing and not what the German army expected him to do on the occupied island of Saint-Malo. Steven Knight changed the story while adapting it for the screen. Werner’s journey through Nazi-occupied Europe seeking illegal radio broadcasts was a life-changing expedition. It allowed him to see the atrocities of the army and how people suffered. This experience was important for Werner to make a choice that was skipped by the director and the writers. Marie’s blindness had become her strength over the time she spent in Saint-Malo. The miniseries did not discuss how Marie managed to become independent after her father left the island. It was essential to make this a part of the narrative because it allows the characters to grow and transition into strong personalities. Their arcs did not have a definite start or end in the show.

How Different Are Werner’s Arcs?

The language used in the book is different from the dialogue written in the show. There is no emotional connection between the characters as they converse with each other in the miniseries, and the lack of depth affects the sentiments the makers were trying to portray. Meanwhile, the book is filled with emotionally charged words as the story progresses. There could have been a better way to present the dialogue because the book has a certain sentiment that the makers did not tap into. To emphasize Werner’s love for the radio and his habit of tinkering with it, the show included a scene of him as a young boy fixing a radio at the SS army officer’s home. This is not mentioned in the book. The makers of the show took a good amount of creative liberty and gave prominence to Werner’s interest in radios. This led him to Saint-Malo, where he eventually connected with Etienne and Marie.


The author did give importance to his interest in radio, but a lot of time was dedicated to Werner’s relationship with his sister, Jutta. It was Jutta who was listening to the foreign broadcasts and informing her brother about the bombings carried out by the Luftwaffe in other parts of Europe. In the book, Jutta is a crucial aspect in Werner’s life. She kept him grounded and advised him to avoid getting conditioned by the Nazi propaganda at the National Political Institute of Education, a school he was given the chance to join.

What Is Reinhold Von Rumpel’s Story?

Reinhold von Rumpel’s arc was accurately presented in the show, except for his demise. Von Rumpel was a desperate man, and he took advantage of his job to fulfill his agenda. His demise in the books happened at the hands of Werner, not Marie. Von Rumpel’s death at the hands of Werner was crucial in the book because it showcased Werner having no loyalty towards his uniform anymore. Steve Knight and Shawn Levy took the creative liberty of giving Marie the chance to kill von Rumpel to avenge her father’s death, a crime von Rumpel confessed to. This decision taken by the show makers did not make sense because, in the book, there is no detailed description of how Marie’s father died.


The differences between the book and the screenplay of the show are exasperating. The show explores in depth the time Etienne served in the First World War and how it affected his life later. He was unwilling to get past the memories of the war until Marie encouraged him to take the leap of faith. Etienne helped Madame Manec by gathering messages for their resistance group. The resistance group is a crucial part of the book. Madame Manec and other women from the neighborhood were instrumental in resisting the German army and received coded messages. The makers of the show chose to mention it only in passing.

What Are The Major Differences From The Book?

Daniel’s Death: One of the most prominent differences from the book is the death of Marie’s father, Daniel. Anthony Doerr clearly didn’t want to mention the cause of Daniel’s demise until the very end of the book. Marie and Etienne moved back to Paris after the war and would request that the museum update them on any information regarding Daniel. Marie and Etienne never got closure regarding him and continued living with it. In the miniseries, Reinhold von Rumpel reveals his role in Daniel’s death after he was caught by him. Von Rumpel assumed Daniel was in the pursuit of finding the cursed diamond, ‘Sea of Flames.’ It is hard to comprehend such crucial changes made to the screenplay by the creators of the show and not justify them with a strong narrative.


Sea of Flames: The book describes Werner’s time in Saint-Malo spent in awe of Marie’s beauty, but the two of them never kissed each other. The diamond was found inside the model of Saint-Malo Island made by Marie’s father.  She parted ways with the ‘Sea of Flames’ by placing it at the shore of the grotto, in the hope no one would claim ownership over it. It was Marie’s way of doing the right thing. In the show, Marie throws the diamond into the sea because it caused a life-changing tragedy. She lost her father because of it, and she would have to live without him for the rest of her life.

Werner’s Death: The makers did not explore what happened to Werner after he was captured by the American soldiers. As per the books, he remained a prisoner of war. He eventually fell sick at the POW camp, and his delirious spell due to his deteriorating health led him to accidentally step on a landmine, which instantly caused his death. Werner could not meet Jutta one last time, and he died a death he did not deserve.


Jutta and Marie’s Lives After the War: The epilogue of the book was not touched upon by Steven Knight and Shawn Levy. There was a lot to explore between Jutta and Marie-Laure LeBlanc. Jutta played a crucial role in getting in touch with Marie after a few decades and discussing her deceased brother Werner. Marie worked at the Museum of Natural History as a scientist. This was a fitting tribute to her father, who remained a dedicated employee till the end. Steven Knight and Shawn Levy making a call to not include these portions in the show seems like a loss. This epilogue in the source material realistically concluded the story. Jutta, Etienne, and Marie’s lives went back to normalcy in the book, but they functioned with the inherent pain of losing a loved one.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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