Some Thoughts on All The Light We Cannot See adaptation


All The Light We Cannot See is one of my favourite novels. It was unexpectedly wonderful – I had no expectations when I started and I remember being unable to put it down. The story pulled me in and left me with a sadness I can still never explain. It was spellbinding.


So when I heard that the Pulitzer award winning novel was being adapted for screen AND it was being directed by Shawn Levy of Stranger Things (one of my fav series) AND that the music was being composed by James Newton Howard (he has composed some of my favourite other-worldy soundtracks) AND that it was starring Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie (both of whom I like) I thought it was going to be spectacular.


You must understand it is very rare for me to love so many things together. My interests while passionate are few and far between. I often feel like I am far behind with pop culture and music and The Things To Know. So this made me very excited. I started it last night and I have many thoughts.


Firstly I feel disappointed. I don’t know if there was any way to capture the beauty of this novel since a lot of the magic comes from Marie – who is blind and feels the world around her and that is how the novel feels – feeling your way through it bit by bit and almost feeling blind yourself in the novel – what she hears is enhanced and we hear it with her: the roar of the sea, the tiny sucking mouths of the molluscs on the rocks. A film naturally is a very visual thing and so immediately we are placed in a world we can see and that takes something away from the series. And I don’t know quite honestly, if there is something that could save us from that in the adaptation (but maybe something… more slowness, more darkness, more music). This is a very scattered review and I have a lot of things to do, so when I have time  I will return to edit to make this more coherent. But for now: Etienne seemed to be much crazier in the novel, so much more unstable and unreliable but in the series he already appears as someone strong and reliable ( a hero who had some bad war experiences but who seems to easily take up his role again but in the novel we are on the journey with him to bravery) and Marie no matter the situation she is in, seems to have someone to save her but it never felt that way in the novel – we are truly FEARFUL for her in the novel but in the series I don’t really fear for her. She has people who love her, who may be out there waiting to help her, but in the novel she seems to be so alone and the fear for her was such a driving force! 

Then the actors! I LOVE Mark Ruffalo but I have no idea what he’s doing in this film. What are these neutral half British accents these supposedly Frenchmen have. I feel like MR is trying so hard to keep the air of the character, the voice even, that he’s not acting the role, Marie’s father was so much more than that – he was a soulful in-depth character but MR feels wooden, characterish, stilted. Hugh does a little better but also, it still feels stilted, strange as if we are seeing a novel being re-enacted, a play being read (why are they not giving over into these roles, embracing their characters? I am certainly sure they both have the capabilities to do it). Everything feels… acted. And because this is my favourite novel and I have such few favourite things, this makes me mad. This should have for all purposes worked with the cast, the music, the director, the story. And so far…. it doesn’t. Also, because of this stilted acting, the deep love between Marie and her father which was such a driving force of the novel is not really there. I feel like maybe there could have been another way to capture the scenes with their own music, their own style to add the lyrical language of the novel. I just finished a residency and we were talking about translators who have to translate into another language, especially poetry; some poets translate using their own style to give the voice of the poem that works in that culture and I agree with that; you might lose the original writer’s style but you capture the essence in its own way and that’s what I feel is missing in this. Where is the essence? Why couldn’t we get a style, even if it didn’t feel like Anthony Doerr’s? Ultimately I feel like there may have been too much pressure for this series and too many voices and there may have been a lot of creative differences going on in the background that bubbled through to the surface and turned this series into something… okay, when it could have been extraordinary.

Also, everything feels clich-ey. Also Werner was not as simply a character as that (a Good German forced to be bad), he had more nuance, more complication, not everything was so simple. We know the Germans are BAD but he is the character that reveals the complication for many – he was not the exception. ALSO, I don’t remember it being that everyone was just waiting for the Americans to come save them as it seems in the series. That’s way too simple and so typical of Hollywood and it’s 2023 now.


Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *