A Catholic Review Of Netflix’s All The Light We Cannot See

by Faith & Life, Movie Reviews and Recommendations

In 2014, a novel by Anthony Doerr captured readers in the 500+ page novel, 16+ hour audiobook All the Light We Cannot See.  At the time of its release, I was a seminarian studying for the priesthood at Mundelein Seminary under (now) Bishop Robert Barron. In 2015, Barron penned an essay on the book for Word on Fire and a few months later a YouTube video. I have a great admiration for Bishop Barron and thought that if he was reviewing the book, it was worth reading for myself. The back-and-forth chapters between characters and their perspective and experience were masterful. The storyline appealed to both male and female readers as a book situated during World War II. When I finished the last page, I thought, I cannot wait for this book to become a movie. I’m sure other readers felt the same way. Almost ten years later, Netflix has released a four-episode series capturing the storyline of Doerr’s best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Certain themes from the Christian life emerge as the story plays out on the television screen. 

All The Light We Cannot See Trailer

The Story Is Set In Saint-Malo

It is common for French towns to have the name of saints. This story takes place in Brittany in the city of Saint-Malo.  A curious Catholic might wonder who this saint is because they have never heard of him. He isn’t one of the common saints that we would rattle off our tongue as Americans, but perhaps for the French he would be. You might even wonder, do the people of Brittany know his story in the city named after him today? St. Malo was a disciple of St. Brendan the Navigator and helped Brendan in his missionary efforts. He later served under a hermit named Aaron, and after the hermit’s death, Malo was consecrated a bishop in the area. He had a reputation as a miracle worker. 

The Characters Are Confronted With Death 

The main characters Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfenning are immersed in a time of death. Bombs are dropping. Attacks are raging. People are falling dead on the streets. The noise around the blind Marie-Laure surely must strike within her the thought she could die at any moment. Marie-Laure also broadcasts on the shortwave channel 1310. She openly admits that her act of broadcasting could get her executed. For Werner, he was serving alongside other military personnel. He too knew that death could come for him. With death before one’s eyes, it would be natural to think of the afterlife. One line in the film says, “In Heaven we will see God face to face.” Marie-Laure inquired if even the blind would see God. It was said that if God wants us to see something, we will see it. God wants us to see Him, so yes, the blind would see Him. Whether you are a character or the reader/viewer this is a reality that confronts us on a daily basis. We are constantly reminded that life is short and we must live our lives to the fullest now.   

Are there moments of Christian allegory in All The Light We Cannot See? 

When Christians watch movies or read books it is easy sometimes to wonder if there is a Christian underpinning. It may not have been the intention of the author, nevertheless, it can be present. I think All the Light We Cannot See has elements of Christian allegory. As Marie-Laure is broadcasting, she wants to get a message to her family, she says that she hoped her family would be able to break bread together once again. The idiom of breaking bread refers to the Eucharist

While it could have been an allusion to Christianity, it was in fact, an invitation for family to meet at the local bakery and to be together. The very title of the book and Netflix series lends itself to some Christian interpretation.  “All the Light We Cannot See” speaks to the visible and invisible. A line from the movie says, “The most important light is the one you cannot see.”  Hearing this with the ears of a Christian, we might think that Jesus is the Light of the World, as identified in John 8:12.  Jesus is the light we cannot see, but He is the light we hope to one day see in eternity. 

One of the main plots of the film is the quest to find a hidden rock that promises immortality. If you possess it you will live forever. The search for the rock could be akin to our search for eternity by the life that we live. We have found the rock as Catholics, it is the Church, and through the Church and the sacraments we receive, especially the Eucharist, we have the pledge of eternity, where we will live forever.  

Method of Evangelization 

The radio had been used by Marie-Laure’s uncle, known to many as the Professor, to provide instruction and messages of hope to young people.  Marie-Laure used the radio to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They didn’t know who would be listening.  Those who listened found hope in the lessons taught and words spoken. For decades, the radio has been a source of evangelization. For Americans, the apostolates of Relevant Radio, EWTN, Radio Maria, and other local Catholic stations have broadcasted the gospel and messages of faith into people’s cars, homes, and through apps on smartphones. Radio has changed hearts and facilitated conversions. Figures like Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham used the media for the purpose of evangelization. The Professor and Marie-Laure communicated to an unknown number of people messages of hope in a time of uncertainty and war.  Seeing that in a novel/movie should inspire us today in our works of evangelization to use both old media like radio and television and new media like social media, podcasts, and YouTube.  We have a message, and we have the means to communicate it.  And unlike Marie-Laure, at least for now, we are not doing so in a time where it could cost us our life.  

Can a Catholic Watch All the Light We Cannot See 

The movie does contain swear words and scenes of violence. It is a war movie. Viewer discretion is advised.  

Fr. Looney’s Rating Of All The Light We Cannot See

 9/10- Great cinematography of a book we have all waited to see play out on the television screen.  

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