The Netflix adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s acclaimed novel, All The Light We Cannot See, has brought the mesmerising story to a new audience, but not without its share of misses.
To begin with, there are plenty of differences from the original book. Fans of the novel may have been left puzzled by the series’ different ending. Especially that kiss that gives this Pulitzer-winning story more of a fairytale-like Hollywood ending.
In the book, the story is told through short, poetic chapters that delve deep into the psyche of the characters. Doerr’s writing style is known for its vivid descriptions and emotional exploration, which captivated readers worldwide. However, Netflix’s adaptation, with Shawn Levy directing it, opts for over-the-top action sequences, departing from the introspective and contemplative tone of the novel.
If you haven’t yet watched (or read) the series—you can read our review of the series, though—then turn away right now, for this post is dark and full of spoilers.
How the ending of All The Light We Cannot See adaptation differs from the book
One of the most significant differences between the book and the series is the ending. In the series, the final episode culminates in a tense and violent standoff that results in a major character death, a revelation that Marie-Laure can fire a gun with perfect aim simply relying on her hearing, and there is the classic ‘boy gets the girl’ scenario. While it provides some drama, this ending deviates considerably from the novel’s conclusion.
In the novel, Werner and Marie-Laure’s paths do cross, but the circumstances leading to it are different. There is no dramatic showdown involving grenades, guns, or a violent confrontation with the antagonist. Instead, the tension arises from the search for the precious jewel, the Sea of Flames, and the characters’ internal struggles. The focus is on their emotional journey rather than an action-packed showdown.
In the last episode of All The Light We Cannot See, Reinhold von Rumpel (Lars Eidinger) arrives at Uncle Etienne’s house, where Marie-Laure (Aria Mia Loberti) and the Sea of Flames are hidden. The Americans started bombing Saint-Malo in retaliation to the German forces stationed there. Etienne (Hugh Laurie) dies in an explosion, but not before sending off Werner (Louis Hofmann) to save Marie. So Werner makes a run for it through flying artillery and a magnificently burning town.
In the novel, von Rumpel indeed reaches Etienne’s residence, chasing Marie and the precious gem. But Etienne is very much alive. Notably, Werner spends a significant portion of the story trapped beneath debris with his fellow Nazi comrades, Bernd and Volkheimer. It’s only during the Allied bombings that Volkheimer urges Werner to blow up a grenade to loosen them free. And Werner goes off to find Marie on his own accord.
On the show, von Rumpel takes his sweet time telling Marie all about how he tortured her father (Mark Ruffalo) to force him to give up her location, which he valiantly refused to do before dying. He also decides to blow up the door to the attic where Marie was hiding with a grenade after learning she can use a gun despite not being able to see because her Uncle Etienne taught her to do it—something we don’t see on the show.
In the novel, Marie hides in the attic, while von Rumpel frantically searches for the precious gem all over the house. As the story progresses, von Rumpel starts hallucinating about his daughters. Marie remains silent for the most part, apart from playing a record. There are no guns or grenades.
The entire interaction between von Rumpel and Werner, when he arrives at the house, goes down differently, too. In the book, von Rumpel believes Werner is also there for the diamond, but in the series, he goes after Werner for being a traitor. In the series, Marie shoots von Rumpel, saving Werner. But in the book, it is Werner who shoots a distracted von Rumpel with the rifle he had borrowed from his friend Volkheimer.
Unlike the series, there are no hopeful kiss goodbyes for Werner or Marie in the book. They do bond over their shared love for Etienne’s radio show. Marie asks Werner to surrender to the American troops, which he does in the hopes of returning to Marie after the war. In the book, he is captured by the Americans as a prisoner of war and contracts a fever soon after. In his delirium, he walks onto a landmine and dies.
Uncle Etienne, however, survives and returns to find Marie.
What happens to the Sea of Flames in the All The Light We Cannot See?
In the Netflix series, All The Light We Cannot See, Marie throws the Sea of Flames diamond into the ocean, ala Rose in Titanic. It’s a bit more elaborate in the book.
Three decades later, Volkheimer finds Werner’s sister, Jutta, in order to hand over his personal possessions. During their meeting, he casually mentions his suspicion that Werner may have been in love during his time in Saint-Malo. Jutta discovers a miniature replica of a house from Saint-Malo in Werner’s things. This leads her to track down Marie-Laure.
It is revealed that the miniature house contains a key to the underground vault where Marie had hidden the diamond. The concluding chapter of the story takes place in 2014 in Paris, with a grown-up Marie speaking with her grandson.