Review of All the Light We Cannot See – this chaotic disaster is a guaranteed trip to Triteland.
After much anticipation, the film adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See has arrived. Was it worth the wait? Definitely not.
The film has a strong budget, visually appealing lighting, and carefully crafted shots, making it visually stunning. However, the challenge lies in adapting a novel about a blind French girl who broadcasts illegal radio transmissions in occupied Saint-Malo, and a German orphan who is forced to use his magical radio abilities for the Third Reich, secretly listening every night and finding a glimmer of hope. Along with this, the film explores themes such as the significance of art and life, the influence of evil, and the potential for redemption. It is crucial for the filmmakers to handle these complex themes effectively, or else the film risks becoming shallow and clichéd.
The journey undertaken by director Shawn Levy (known for Stranger Things and the Night at the Museum franchise) and writer-showrunner Steven Knight (famous for Peaky Blinders) is one of determination. In 1944, we are introduced to teenage Marie-Laure (played by Aria Mia Loberti in her debut role) who finds solace in reading her braille edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea while desperately hoping for news of her missing father and Uncle Etienne (played by Hugh Laurie). As Allied bombs rain down on her, she remains undeterred and defiant, refusing to be silenced. Despite the dangers of broadcasting in a war zone, she declares, “I will not be silenced.” The scene is picturesque yet chaotic, with shattered windows and dust in her hair. It’s enough to make one wish for the bombs to fall on the scriptwriter instead.
In a charming French restaurant nearby, an antagonist in the form of Sgt Maj Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) is seen devouring oysters and sipping wine, served by a nervous but courageous owner. Von Rumpel appears to have been plucked from another world entirely – possibly ‘Allo ‘Allo! or Raiders of the Lost Ark. This becomes even more apparent when it is revealed that he is on a quest for a mystical gem hidden by Marie-Laure, which he believes will cure his cancer rather than his affiliation with nazism. The French restaurant owner bravely refuses to disclose the girl’s whereabouts, to which Von Rumpel responds, “Go to hell!” However, he quickly retorts, “That’s absurd,” as the scriptwriter’s attempt to add some drama falls flat. “It’s quite evident that we are already in hell,” he states before ultimately killing him.
In the meantime, Werner (played by Louis Hofmann), a reluctant Nazi who has lost his unit in an aerial attack, does whatever it takes to keep Marie-Laure’s presence a secret from their replacements.
The story also includes flashbacks to Werner’s childhood in the orphanage, as he was an orphan, and to Marie-Laure’s childhood, which is more challenging as it involves Mark Ruffalo portraying her father with a sickeningly schmaltzy European accent. Ruffalo’s character, Daniel, is a museum curator who teaches Marie-Laure about Paris through miniature carvings and then takes her out into the real world. He reassures her that being blind in 1930s France is nothing to worry about and even compares it to having 10 eyes. However, he warns her not to touch a jewel called the Sea of Flames, which is believed to be cursed. Her mother’s death is not relevant to the story. As the Germans invade in 1940, Daniel hides the jewels in a dinosaur head, except for the Sea of Flames, which he secretly keeps for himself. Marie-Laure is unable to see this as she learns that fingers are not equivalent to 10 eyes. Eventually, they must flee to Saint-Malo to escape the Nazis.
In the present time, Marie-Laure submerges her face in a bath of very clean water while gazing at a stained glass window and contemplates the value of life. It is admirable.
The performance is subpar and lacks any nuance or depth. The dialogue deteriorates as the story progresses. The pacing is both painfully slow and hastily rushed, with any meaningful ideas removed. Perhaps if there wasn’t currently a real-world war, this shallow and self-absorbed production would have been received better, but that’s just how it goes. Even during times of prolonged peace, this show was never going to be more than just visually appealing.