Why the ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ Ending Is Different From the Book

“The theme of this story is the possibility of hope,” director/EP Shawn Levy tells TheWrap

Warning! This post contains major spoilers for the final two episodes and ending of “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Shawn Levy and Steven Knight’s Netflix adaptation “All the Light We Cannot See” ends quite differently for a few key characters than source material Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The four-part limited series tells a split story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Aria Mia Loberti), a young blind, French girl who moves with her father to a small seaside town in France when the Germans take over the country, and Werner Pfennig (Louis Hoffman) an unwilling Nazi soldier whose job is to track down illegal radio broadcasts that the French use to codify messages to the United States and other Allied countries during World War II. The two main characters, who exist on opposing sides of a historical tragedy, actually have a lot in common thanks to a radio broadcast they listened to as children, which encouraged curiosity and kindness.

“There’s something so epic, and for me slightly romantic, about that notion that is there a destiny in this world — or is it just a sequence of accidents, and so I wanted to really connect these two characters through the broadcasts that they listened to, simultaneously and on different sides of the war and the world when they’re kids, when they’re teenagers, when they’re young adults and that they finally meet in real life,” Levy told TheWrap in a Zoom interview. “In a nod to one of the moments in the book that everyone, all of us fans remember that the simple act of sharing a can of peaches at the end of the war, in a French town by the sea — that was always so beautiful and fragile and kind of romantic to me in the book. The romance of that informed how Steven Knight and I handled that final movement in the final episode.”

The meeting of the two characters takes place about halfway through the series in a very climactic way after Marie-Laure almost dies in a sea cave and after Werner’s commander almost makes him kill her for illegally broadcasting.

“Werner and Marie always meet in the book, but Steven Knight and me and Aria and Louis, we spoke a lot about that scene, and it just felt organic to the adaptation, that these two characters might have a connection that is a little more substantial than a can of peaches. Obviously, when you adapt material, you make decisions and there are changes. And certainly, that dance that they share with that very brief and very gentle kiss is a difference, but it felt organic to those characters,” Levy said.

“I’m hopeful that post-strike Arya will speak to this herself — it was really important to Aria to show this young woman who is blind as also someone capable of desire, desirability, and I hope that Arya can speak to this because she does so much more passionately and very articulately, and it’s one reason that we kept that in the ending. The ending is more open-ended than the book. I adored the book, but I will confess that the outcomes in the epilogue chapters for both Jutta and Werner were shattering to me.”

Doerr’s novel ends with Werner’s tragic death and Jutta receiving the news later on in the story.  

“There’s so much loss and so much grief in this story, and Steven Knight and I and all of us who made the show, we wanted to not shy away from the loss. There’s a lot of characters who lose their lives in this story, but that maybe there’s the possibility of hope in our ending,” Levy said. “We’re not saying they will meet up in the future. We’re not saying they won’t, but the theme of this story is the possibility of hope. And so I wanted the final kind of emotional gesture of the series, to have a seed of hopefulness as well. And frankly, I’ve always believed in that theme, but as we talk here in October of 2023, I think the reaffirmation of that theme in this heartbreaking world is more important than ever.” 

“What I remember about the book is I remember thinking it’s got this kind of inexorable intersection towards two young people on either sides of war in a world that is heartbreaking,” Levy added “They meet for only an hour, but it is an intersection of two lives that will inform their lives forever, thereafter.”

All episodes of “All the Light We Cannot See” are now streaming on Netflix. 


2 responses to “Why the ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ Ending Is Different From the Book”

  1. Robin Holbrook Avatar
    Robin Holbrook

    The movie IS MARVELOUS!

  2. Catherine Uffen Avatar
    Catherine Uffen

    The movie is a terrible sell-out. Read the novel instead. Laurie’s performance is schlocky. The re-written parts are not authentic to the period. The movie ending is false and inauthentic. False hope is what the director’s rewrite tries to sell.

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