Jacob Richardson | 9/11/2020
Rosamund Pike plays the famed Marie Curie in this biopic about the discovery of radioactivity.
Marie Curie (nee Sklowoska) (Rosamund Pike), travels to Paris to pursue science at the Sorbonne from her home in Poland. Frosty, prickly and obsessed with her independence and her science, she doesn’t win any favours from the male dominated heads of the Sorbonne, and winds up without a lab. Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) takes a shining to Marie, and offers her space in his lab. Together, they investigate a radical idea of Marie’s: that unstable uranium particles emit ‘rays’ of energy independently, that can transform and release unbelievable power. As their romance grows, so too does their scientific acclaim, and they are lauded for their discovery of new elements. Yet things start to unravel as the negative impacts of radioactivity are revealed - both close to home for Marie and her family, and echoing throughout time in some of the most historic moments in modern history.
Radioactive will give you whiplash with its rapid creative tonal changes, and flash forwards to the historically seismic impacts of Marie and Pierre Curie's groundbreaking early 20th century research. Director Marjane Satrapi, in the most mainstream of her five features to date, struggles to settle on a single tone, and as such Radioactive cuts from historically accurate period imagery to oddly animated uranium chunks, from seyances to brutal horse tramplings. That’s before even considering the odd interludes with the historical ripples from the discovery of radium. The film cuts from early 20th century Paris to Hiroshima and the dropping of the bomb, to Chernobyl, to the nuclear tests in deserted stretches of mainland USA and to the first uses of radioactivity to cure cancer. These tonal shifts are also compounded by the fact that when Satrapi cuts to later points in time, we are watching worse reenactments of these moments than seen previously in recent pop culture - the incredible tv show Chernobyl being a perfect example.
That being said, despite the weird and eclectic tone, there is a lot to like here. From a cinematography perspective, there are flashes of brilliance, and Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle plays well with the Paris landscape and the ominous green glow of radium. Rosamund Pike gives a brave and pioneering scientific mind in a patriarchal system full form with a compelling performance, and when coupled with the truly intriguing real life story of this scientific breakthrough, Radioactive still comes off as an interesting period piece. Sam Riley is a strong supporting presence, and Satrapi balances the competing condemnation of the system and prevailing attitudes of the time with a genuinely enjoyable romance plot.
Radioactive is a strange, hard to pin down film, but the incredible true story of this historical pioneer and the performance from Rosamund Pike make this a worthy time at the cinema.