The book did it better: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Lucy Mackarel pinpoints the major emotional plot points excluded from the film, All the Bright Places, proving that the book was better.

WARNING! This piece contains spoilers. 

I want to preface that, while I wholeheartedly stand by my opinion that the book did it better, this film adaptation of Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places is good. It was always going to be an Olympic feat to bring such complex and emotional work to the screen without shedding some of what made the novel so fantastic. All the Bright Places centres on Violet Markey and Theodore Finch, two eighteen-year-olds with their respective emotional baggage and the journey of healing they go on together. 

Violet’s issues with survivor’s guilt and depression are well documented throughout the film, but Finch’s character was underdeveloped. His undiagnosed bipolar disorder is explored more thoroughly in the book. However, this lack of explanation makes Finch less endearing to viewers; in fact, people I’ve introduced the on-screen version to who haven’t read the book, sometimes go as far as describing him as irritating which is simply not the case. Like the book says, “people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you’re hurting” and unfortunately the film doesn’t let us see how much Finch is hurting. 

A key piece of Violet’s character that was also left on the cutting room floor: her passion for writing. Taking this out made Violet less of her own person and meant one of the best parts of the book didn’t exist. Elle Fanning’s performance as Violet in the 2020 film is stellar, particularly in its climax, where she discovers her friend has killed himself. But the scene itself changed a lot. Violet no longer wades into the water to find her friend because “People like Theodore Finch don’t die. He’s just wandering.” Nor does she have to identify his body, likely because it was considered too graphic for a visual adaptation – but scenes like that in the book were necessary. It drives home the heart of the story. Finch is dead. He can’t come back from that and everyone is forced to face life without him, capturing the very real effects of suicide on others. That is why the book will always do it better.