We were introduced to the character of Etienne Leblanc in All the Light We Cannot See when Daniel and Marie reached Saint-Malo after the German forces breached Paris and took the city under their control. Daniel had a fair idea that the Gestapo were going to come for the Sea of Flames (one of the most valuable stones present in France, which had a myth attached to it) and other gems kept in his museum. He knew that it was necessary that he secure the valuable artifacts and the gems and later disappear and stay low for a bit. At that time, Daniel had no clue what kind of activities his uncle, Etienne, was involved in. Etienne’s elder sister, Madame Manec, gave Marie and Daniel a warm welcome, and she was more than happy, as she was probably seeing Marie for the first time after she had grown up. Etienne mostly kept to himself, and after the First World War, he developed a phobia of going out and being in places that brought back memories of his past. As a result, the man had completely locked himself in his home while his sister waited for the day he would take charge of things and turn the scales in their favor. Now, it needs to be mentioned here that Shawn Levy and his team of writers have taken certain creative liberties and changed a lot of things from Antony Doerr’s novel. So, let’s find out how the character of Etienne was portrayed in the series and what impact it ended up having in the scheme of things.
Why did Etienne become the professor?
The moment Marie heard Uncle Etienne’s voice, she knew that this was the man whom she used to listen to in her childhood on the radio. Similarly, even Werner Pfennig realized that Etienne was the professor, whose show he had heard, when he first met him in hostile conditions in Saint-Malo. We are not told explicitly in the series why Etienne started broadcasting in the first place, but we think that his past experiences and his desire to shape the world in a certain way made him do that. Etienne had seen death; he knew how difficult it was to live with grief, and he very well knew what loss was. But the world didn’t seem to learn from the mistake it made, and he knew that if things didn’t change, then a time would arrive when the people would be standing on the brink of another war. We believe that Etienne wanted to impart his knowledge and share his experiences with the younger generation so that they could differentiate right from wrong and not get influenced if a madman sporting a short mustache tried to fill them with hate in the future.
Etienne did not hope that anybody would even listen to his program, but for years, he regularly went on the shortwave and said whatever he wanted to. For someone like Marie, he became the eyes that showed her the world outside, and for a person like Werner, who had already lost everything, he was the ray of hope that kept him alive. That time when Etienne used to broadcast was possibly the only time when Werner felt at peace. As a result, years later, a young cadet from the German army went against his own commander, and that’s probably when Etienne realized the kind of impact he had on vulnerable souls seeking a place to hide. It was probably because of his scientific lessons that Marie and Werner learned to question everything before blindly believing it.
How was the relationship between Etienne and Manec?
Etienne shared a very special bond with Manec, and though a lot of the nitty-gritties of the dynamics of their relationship have been changed in the series, the essence has been, in a way, kept the same. Manec was the one who was running the intelligence unit, which consisted of old women who brought information about the German movement. She knew that her brother suffered from agoraphobia, and she waited for the day he would conquer his fears and go out there to snatch victory from the hands of the ruthless Gestapo. She knew that the day would arrive sooner than later and till then, she would have to keep the resistance movement going.
Manec was happy to see that little Marie was bringing some positive changes inside her brother, and once again, he had started to feel like his old self. There was hope that came with the arrival of Marie, and she knew that very soon, the day would come when Etienne would conquer his fears and do what he was destined to do. The day Manec realized that her brother was ready to take charge of things, she passed away, as if she had been just holding on to her life and waiting just for that moment to arrive. When Etienne came back home and found her lying on the floor, he was heartbroken, and he made a vow that he would complete what his sister had started and make sure that the German forces would pay for their sins.
How did Etienne meet his fateful end?
Etienne came to save Marie when he met Werner for the very first time. Things would have turned out differently between them had he not seen Werner killing his commander. Etienne realized that there was something more to this German soldier than met the eye. Etienne took Werner to his hideout, where he got to know how he had risked his life and listened to his broadcast every single night. Etienne decided that he would protect this boy and not let his colleagues bring him any harm. It was difficult for Etienne to make the other members of the resistance group understand why they shouldn’t kill Werner. At the end of All the Light We Cannot See, the members of the resistance pointed their guns at Werner, and Etienne stood in their way, asking them not to shoot. Just then, a bomb fell on their hideout, and the entire structure came down, taking the lives of almost everyone who was present there. Etienne realized that his time was up, and he told Werner, who was the only one who had managed to stay alive, to go and save Marie from the Gestapo. Etienne succumbed to his injuries, but not before breaking the spine of the German defense forces.
There was a time when Etienne used to laugh and ride his bikes in the streets of the town, but the First World War changed him, and he was never the same man again. His entire perspective changed when he saw his own colleagues die in front of his eyes. He was a broken man after the war, but he withstood the storm, dealt with his inner conflicts, fought his fears, and once again came to the battlefront and fought for the cause of his country in the Second World War. Though Etienne perished at the end of Netflix’s All the Light We Cannot See, in the original novel, he stayed alive and, after the war finished, he moved to Paris with Marie and spent the rest of his days in peace.