All the Light We Cannot See is a modern Casablanca

Bruce Dickson
3 min readNov 15, 2023
© Netflix

Spiritual Movie Alert ~ All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix

To me this is a PROFOUND artistic achievement. I think it’s most similar to the 1942 film, Casablanca. Both films, thru character choices and actions — not character arcs — illumine the Light We Cannot See: courage, self-honesty, vulnerability, dedication, commitment, bravery, compassion, risk, daring and sacrifice. Both Casablanca and All the Light are driven by the female leads.

All the Light has 1940s “Gone With the Wind” set design and detailed sets. The filming is sumptuous — not too dark, not washed out, not dystopian — very close to the 1940s Technicolor color palette.

Not only is the cinematography luminous, so are the performances. A digression: The reason lower budget, quickly produced TV series look and feel cheaper, is scenes with actors delivering lines are shot in one take. To get deeply luminous performances, with vitality, vigor and depth, I estimate it generally takes 3–4 takes. Why? Because it takes a few iterations for actors and and director to gain insight into what the character is feeling and capture all this on film. This explains how All the Light We Cannot See has such such deeply felt performances, both the protagonists and the villains.

I’m confused about the many negative and lukewarm professional reviews. One said he really liked episodes 1 and 2 very much; then, he felt let down by episodes 3 and 4. One of the most common script problems is a failed third act. I wondered, could this be the case here?
To my eyes and ears, all four episodes have IMPECCABLE scripting and strong third acts, complete with cliff-hanger endings and an emotionally satisfying conclusion. I saw no let down. Why should there be? Shawn Levy is one of America’s best and most innovative producer-directors.

I turn again to the negative and lukewarm reviews I read. The most common complaint is All The Light is “sentimental melodrama.” Perhaps as a writer, it’s easier for me to understand how All The Light was written. It is NOT about the characters. There are no significant character arcs; no one learns anything. Audiences younger than 18 will naturally bond more closely with the characters, their challenges, ups and downs. For adult audiences, this is written as a fable, pointing “above” the characters to the values each demonstrates in their actions. not as a character piece.

I believe if many critics — and would-be screenwriters watch All The Light a second time, they will note a great and consistent effort to distance audiences from the characters per se, whether each lives or dies per se. Rather, the way the script is written, the focus is on the inner “light” of integrity, generated by choices to demonstrate courage, self-honesty, dedication, commitment, bravery, compassion, risk, daring and sacrifice.

I think we have the same majority of young film critics here, who were lukewarm or critical of Seven Spielberg’s West Side Story and The Fablemans. Like All the Light, these two are films of incredible integrity, capable of moving audiences to feel authentic emotions, original art in the guise of commercial entertainment.

I’m afraid some younger film critics are also review bombing The Marvels, another film with originality, integrity and commitment — if less profound than than Casablanca and All the Light.

If younger critics the “turn a blind eye” to the beauties and majesty of the All the Light, the scripting, acting and directing of this Netflix series, to those who cannot see the Light Inside, all I can say is, “If God wants us to see something — we’ll see it.”

This series is FULL of the Inner Light we can’t see: courage, self-honesty, bravery — all heroic achievements in the Inner Game of Life. Speaking of melodrama, I might say, “If you can’t perceive The Light We Cannot See, I pity you.”