Netflix’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ transports the audience to a world of war and carnage, where people lean towards kindness and love despite the horrors they have to face. The story follows Marie and Werner, who come from two different worlds and go through completely different journeys but find a common thread between them through the things that define who they are. Over the course of four episodes, the show takes the audience through their past to show us the kind of people they are in the present and what impact their choices will have in the future.
The setting of the story and the context is very important to understand the journeys of these characters. Here’s a look at the time period and the place that lend meaning and depth to the tale of Marie and Werner. SPOILERS AHEAD
When All the Light We Cannot See Takes Place
The primary events in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ take place in a span of a few weeks in 1944 when the Americans started bombing Saint-Malo in the fight against the Nazi occupation of the French city. In this timeline, Werner and Marie are caught in the city that has been barricaded with no one allowed to leave it, even after the Americans drop the warning of their return and another bombing.
Werner is caught in the rubble with all the members of his unit dead, while Marie is alone in her house, with her father, uncle, and Madame Manec out of the picture. At the same time, Reinhold von Rumpel is on the hunt for the Sea of Flames and has tracked it to Marie-Laure LeBlanc, whose address is the final thing keeping him from the stone.
With these three narratives tied together, the show employs flashbacks to give us the background of the characters, which goes as far as a decade in the past. Chronologically, the story begins in 1934, when Daniel LeBlanc takes his young daughter, Marie, to the museum where he works while teaching her how to navigate the city on her own. At the same time, in Germany, Werner Pfennig lives in an orphanage, and his flair for radio is revealed to the people around him.
A time jump takes us to 1940 when the war has started, and France is invaded by the Germans. On June 14, 1940, Marie and Daniel try to flee Paris by train, but their path is blocked, so they have to resort to other methods, which turns them towards Saint-Malo. Meanwhile, Werner lands in training, being prepared to serve in the war, even if he is too young to enlist. In the next couple of years, Marie and Werner’s paths converge as they both end up in Saint-Malo, where they eventually cross paths.
Where All the Light We Cannot See Takes Place
The main events in ‘All the Lights We Cannot See’ take place in Nazi-occupied France. Saint-Malo becomes the central location of the story, and to make it feel more real, the show’s creators used Saint-Malo as one of the filming locations for the show. Marie-Laure lives with her Uncle Etienne and remains in the house as the Americans bomb the city. Unbeknownst to her, Werner is not too far away. He is caught in the rubble of the Hotel of Bees, which served as the German Radio Surveillance Headquarters.
In the flashbacks, we discover how the stories of Marie and Werner converge to Saint-Malo. Hers begins in Paris, where she lives with her father, who is the curator of the Museum of Natural History. However, they have to flee the city when the Nazis invade it. They try to flee through the Gare Saint-Lazare Train Station, but when it is closed, they traverse the journey on foot and reach Saint-Malo.
Meanwhile, Werner grows up in Viktorastrasse orphanage in Essen, Germany. As a teenager, he is torn away from his home, his sister, and the people he loves to employ his talent for radio in the service of his country. He is selected for the National Political Institute of Education, where he goes through intense physical training, which also tests him mentally, to prepare for the horrors of war.
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