Radioactive Review: Lacks the Spark, Fire, and Glow that was Marie Curie

Rhea Srivastava -

Radioactive Review: Lacks the Spark, Fire, and Glow that was Marie Curie
Amazon Prime Video
Movie Rated


After the death of her beloved husband, Marie Curie's commitment to science remains strong as she tries to explain previously unknown radioactive elements. But it soon becomes terrifyingly evident that her work could lead to applications in medicine that could save thousands of lives -- or applications in warfare that could destroy them by the billions.


Format: Featured
Platform: Amazon Prime Video
MovieRated: 16+
Genre: Drama, Biography
Language: English
Digital Premiere Date: 24 July 2020


That Madame Marie Curie is one of the most influential figures in scientific and human history, is a given. Her contribution to the advancement of chemistry includes the discovery of radium and polonium, elements that have many uses across the gamut. And, she is the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two disciplines, a feat that is still unmatched. Hence, it was about time that we got a movie on her life, the last adaptation from the ‘40s notwithstanding, especially since this is the era of biopics. 
What is the Story about?
Radioactive is almost a perfect name for a film on her life, it seems. A young woman in Paris sets the scientific world ablaze in the 1890s with her revolutionary work in the field. Marie has a committed relationship and a wholly romantic obsession with her work - science. And as we trace her journey from Skłodowska to Mrs Curie to a Nobel Prize laureate to her deathbed, where she is taken both by memories of her life as well as the hope of the lifesaving treatments that her legacy can bring, we also see how a person’s life is affected by their constant uncertainty between the rational and the emotional. It’s a strong base for a story. Based on the 2010 graphic novel, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, Radioactive follows an interesting middle route in terms of what it wants to look like - a mainstream biopic, or an unconventionally dark indie film. There is a distinctive directorial vision as a luminous performance at the centre, but the distinction between those styles and what is the point of the film seems to be lost somewhere. 

Because Rosamund Pike is brilliant. As Curie, she is fiery and moving, and thankfully the scientist’s life had enough drama for the actress to explore a gamut of emotions. Whether it is the loss of Pierre to a freak accident or her occasional sparks of passion and brilliance, she is incredibly nuanced. 

Music and Other Departments
Satrapi has a bold and daring style, and the film captures that to the tee. She incorporates unique and fantastical visual styles like animation, fantasy, and magical realism throughout the film. A smart sequence is when Marie finds herself encapsulated by a modern dance by Loie Fuller (of whom she was a fan) told through the radioactive glow, even as she deals with Pierre’s death. The production design by Michael Carlin is nothing short of brilliant and is sumptuously captured by Anthony Dod Mantle’s lens. The film is lushly photographed in Spain and Budapest (which double up as Paris). 

Tonal inconsistencies and jarring narrative shifts to constantly remind us what radium stands for in the modern world do not detract from Pike’s performance at any point. There are moments of brilliance in certain scenes, mostly due to her and Satrapi’s unique visual aesthetic. One thing that usually bogs down science biopics is the need to keep the science simple for the audience, but still authentic for experts. The route taken here is smart where there isn’t a lot of detailing to the science but you will still follow the main concepts. 
The clunky and disjointed narrative starts off as unnecessary place-setting and then seems to be in a hurry to cover a lot of Marie’s life, as well as the eventual results of her achievements, makes the film come off as confused and tedious. In fact, some scene transitions are so quick that you may find it difficult to establish a connection between them. 
Satrapi is perhaps best known for her seminal autobiographical memoir, Persepolis, which depicted her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It isn’t that surprising that she would have a certain fascination for the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss on which this film is based. Jack Thorne presents a screenplay that heavily incorporates anecdotes from Marie’s diaries and letters, as well as interviews from the Curies’ granddaughter. So it isn’t like there is a lack of material to work with. 

What does come forth is an unsentimental and feminist portrait of a mind even before that terminology could be used for her without an ounce of resentment. Marie has her familial life - the one in which she is married to Pierre, the one where she births Irene (another Nobel laureate), the one where we see flashes of her childhood, and one in which she has a notorious affair after her husband’s death. The most moving parts of the film are still the ones where she talks passionately about her work and radiates energy and passion in her lab. But this unsanitized look at her life doesn’t help her cause. The relationship between Marie and Pierre is tumultuous without cause and explanation to the extent that at some points it stops making sense altogether. Important decisions of their lives are made offscreen as if they make no difference to the narrative. Many liberties are taken in terms of the actual timeline to create a more harrowing effect on the viewer about the repercussions of Marie’s discoveries. 
Which brings me to the film’s biggest flaws. There is an interesting device of flash-forwards incorporated to demonstrate the effect of Marie’s work on the world, specifically atoms and radioactivity. As far as the truth goes, these figments are both positive and negative - from the disaster at Chernobyl to a young boy getting treatment from radiation on his cancer. One would hope that many of these events, knowing what we do know now about the 1945 attack on Hiroshima or Enola Gay bombing at Nagasaki, would have a profound effect on how we view this figure. But the constant movement between timelines is almost disjointed and confusing, sometimes taking away the focus from Marie entirely and just concentrating on these events in isolation. Yes, we know that radium as a discovery both has its advantages and many, many pitfalls. But the cause-and-effect biopic style that Thorne’s screenplay is after both lets down Satrapi’s fantastical vision and Pike’s performance.
Did I Enjoy It?
Mildly. I enjoyed some scenes, specifically for what they looked like rather than the story that was being told. I can just read the graphic novel. 
Do I Recommend It?
A woman unapologetically made her passion her reality in a man’s world, and that story itself deserves to be told and seen. Was it this film though? I don’t think so. Curie deserved better. 


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