Advertisement

Netflix 'All the Light We Cannot See': 'Heartbreaking' reality of themes in Shawn Levy's series

"I didn't expect it to be as topical as it is, but I'm grateful in some ways that this is coming out now," Levy said

Canadian Shawn Levy's new Netflix series All the Light We Cannot See, an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, takes Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, Louis Hofmann and newcomer Aria Mia Loberti to France during World War II.

Where to watch All the Light We Cannot See: Netflix, Nov. 2
Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Aria Mia Loberti, Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, Louis Hofmann, Lars Eidinger
Number of episodes: 4

Sign up for Netflix

In the final days of World War II, blind teen Marie-Laure LeBlanc (Loberti) escapes German-occupied Paris to the coastal town of Saint-Malo with her father, played by Ruffalo. Her father has disappeared and she reads Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea over a shortwave radio as both a way to communicate with her father and uncle Etienne (Laurie), and a way to provide secret messages for the Resistance.

But both Daniel and Marie are being pursued by a Nazi Gestapo officer trying to find an infamous diamond.

Marie is connected to German Werner Pfennig (Louis Hofmann), who grew up as an orphan and became quite gifted at repairing radios, eventually attending Nazi military school. Both Marie and Werner used to listen to "the professor" who would broadcast science and philosophy lessons through the same frequency Marie is using.

(L to R) Nell Sutton as Young Marie-Laure, Director/Executive Producer Shawn Levy, Mark Ruffalo as Daniel LeBlanc in episode 101 of All the Light We Cannot See. (Timea Saghy/Netflix)
(L to R) Nell Sutton as Young Marie-Laure, Director/Executive Producer Shawn Levy, Mark Ruffalo as Daniel LeBlanc in episode 101 of All the Light We Cannot See. (Timea Saghy/Netflix)

'I'm grateful in some ways that this is coming out now'

Budapest was among the shooting locations for All the Light We Cannot See, with Levy, his fellow crew members and actors creating the show during the war in Ukraine.

Levy highlighted that shooting the series at that time made the themes of the story feel particularly "resonant," amplified even more now that it's being released in the midst of the Israel-Hamas crisis.

"I knew that this show had resonant and important themes ... around humanity, empathy, the ability to see the other as who they are, and not just what they are," Levy told Yahoo Canada. "Those were always important, but now to shoot this during the invasion of Ukraine, in the neighbouring country to Ukraine, and then to release it in the midst of what's happening in the Middle East is heartbreaking."

"But also really resonant in how timely and important these themes are, because otherwise it's so easy to just get buried in sadness, heartbreak, hopelessness. But we have to cling to humanism and hope, and that is what this show is about. So I didn't expect it to be as topical as it is, but I'm grateful in some ways that this is coming out now."

Aria Mia Loberti as Marie-Laure in episode 103 of All the Light We Cannot See. (Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix)
Aria Mia Loberti as Marie-Laure in episode 103 of All the Light We Cannot See. (Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix)

A 'love letter' to father-daughter relationships

Levy's work has frequently paired new actors with veterans, in shows like Stranger Things and movies like The Adam Project, and that was also the case with All the Light We Cannot See. Additionally, Loberti was a resource for Levy to be able to put forward an authentic portrayal of a blind character.

"This was another level because this was veterans like Hugh Laurie and Mark Ruffalo with a newcomer in Aria Mia Loberti who plays the lead, but she ... had never even auditioned, not just new to acting, new to any of it, and she is blind," Levy said. "So every single part of my experience with Aria was unique."

"Every day my job was to be Aria's guide and teacher through this profession, and this art form that she was brand new to. But I didn't realize how much she would be my guide and my teacher in terms of the lived experience of navigating the world without sight. So I really feel that we developed this reciprocal collaboration that made both of us better."

Sign up for Netflix

Working with Loberti goes hand in hand with Levy's goal for the series to really amplify the father-daughter storyline from Anthony Doerr's story.

"When I read the first draft of the first episode and I declared, 'OK I'm going to direct the whole thing myself, I'm going to do all the episodes,' I remember actually saying to my producing partner and to Steven Knight, the writer, I said, 'OK now that it's my All the Light We Cannot See, ... we're going to take the father-daughter story and we're going to beef it up even more, we're going to centralize it even more," Levy explained.

"We're going to add weight to it because I have four daughters. These are the defining relationships of my life and I know the incredible bond between a girl and her dad, and I wanted this show to be a love letter to that relationship."