Premiering today on Netflix, the four-part limited series “All the Light We Cannot See” follows the story of Marie-Laure (Aria Mia Loberti), a blind French girl and her father, Daniel LeBlanc (Mark Ruffalo) who flee Paris to evade the Nazis during World War II. The series is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anthony Doerr and brought to the screen by accomplished director/producer Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum,” “Stranger Things”) and writer Steven Knight.
Levy, who first fell in love with the novel as a reader, had sought the rights to the story for years, hoping for a chance to put a feature together. When an earlier production fell through due to time constraints, he approached Doerr about turning the story into a limited series.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to shrink your story, I want to honor it’,” he said. “And the way to do that, I think, is this new form, the limited series, which can be a pedigreed, elegant form of storytelling, and then we were off to the races.”
Citing progress with series such as HBO’s “Chernobyl” and “The Last of Us,” Levy said long-form storytelling series that are not open-ended but “finite” with a definite end goal is a “luxury for a storyteller.”
“It gives us time to really get to know the characters with complexity and change, rather than rushing those changes, because you have a running time you need to respect,” he said.
Doerr, whose first inspiration as a child was C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, expressed his appreciation for the adaptation which will open up the story of Marie-Laure to a new, wider audience.
“Every writer’s dream is to have readers, and this adaptation is really special too because I get to share this story with more people,” he said. “I believe that it’s a topical story about the way technology is used by governments and by resistance fighters. How do we use technology as a tool of education and as a tool of resistance as a tool of liberation? hope that uh I can approach all this stuff with gratitude and humility. I’m so excited that this story resonated.”
In a breakout role, Loberti as Marie-Laurie is a blind woman portraying a blind lead character, which Levy said led to authenticity: “I set out to cast a Marie who was herself blind, like the lead character not just because inclusion is right, but I thought that that kind of authentic representation would be best, because it would give a lived experience to every frame of this show.”
As a result of her involvement, Levy himself was moved by Loberti’s involvement and getting to know her perspective on the world.
“I didn’t count on this,” he said. “I knew I would have to teach Aria how to act, but I did not know that she would teach me just as much about the way that she navigates the world. And, and I think we kind of collaborated in a way that made something that yes, in a way that’s historic, because there’s never been a blind lead of a major Hollywood show or movie like this.”
The director also admired Loberti’s bravery in wanting to do her own stunts, saying that “if I’m going to show people that someone like me can get and deliver on an opportunity like this, I got to do all of this.”
Even through the darkness of war, Maria’s path crosses with Werner (Louis Hoffman), a youth enlisted by Hitler’s army to track down illegal broadcasters. Though they are on opposite sides, the two find hope and humanity with each other. Levy said that universal draw of human connection can speak to a divided and polarized world today.
“(‘All the Light We Cannot See’) says that in times where the world is relentlessly in heartbreakingly dark, where it is very easy to either be hopeless, or to see the other as our enemy, as something unknowable and not worthy of being no inaction, connection, empathy, and a recognition that the other is human to, regardless of the uniform on their back, or the side of the border, that they’re living, that there’s a shared humanity and a complexity to that,” he said. “That is the theme of this. And that is incredibly important to remember right now.”
Doerr echoed that sentiment, saying he believes the role of art is to help connect humans with each other.
“I hope readers or viewers of the series think about that in terms of how we come to see more commonality in each other,” he said. “Because we’re 99.9% genetically identical to each other and it shouldn’t be that hard for us to spend a little more empathy trying to understand how uh each of us came to be here.”
“All the Light We Cannot See,” directed and produced by Shawn Levy, written by Steven Knight based on the novel by Anthony Doerr, stars Aria Mia Loberti, Nell Sutton, Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, Louis Hofmann, Lars Eidinger, and Marion Bailey. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
Watch an exclusive interview with Shawn Levy and DeWayne Hamby below.