‘Radioactive’ tracks the life and career of the extraordinary physicist and chemist Marie Sklodowska-Curie (Rosamund Pike), including her marriage to Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). Marie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – as well as the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice – with her research in radioactivity proving ground-breaking. However Marie had no idea of the negative reverberations her discoveries would have in the future…
‘Radioactive’ is a different kind of biopic, jumping through space and time. Not only are different periods in Marie Curie’s life observed, but so too are the future impacts of her research. The movie can get quite trippy between the inclusion of dream sequences and flash forwards to scenes of horror, such as an atomic bomb detonation demonstration in the 1960s. In various surreal sequences, Hiroshima is juxtaposed with images of World War I and Chernobyl; elsewhere Marie visualises herself (and her Pierre) as a child. It’s an interesting concept, that while Curie was a phenomenal scientist, her discoveries would corrupt innocence, cause great suffering and devastate the world over. You can’t say that it completely works but you have to admire director Marjane Satrapi’s (‘Persepolis’, ‘The Voices’) risk taking and sense of vision.
Where ‘Radioactive’ is at its strongest is, somewhat surprisingly, when it turns to the romantic. Pike is phenomenal, capturing the various facets of Marie’s personality such as her genius, her creativity, her stubbornness, her temper, her love for her husband and children, and later her heartache, just beautifully. The criminally underrated Sam Riley is also brilliant, bringing a quiet confidence ever so slightly verging on haughtiness to the role of Pierre. The actors’ chemistry is a pleasure to watch and moments such as Pierre’s proposal and a skinny dipping trip to the lake prove passionate chapters.
While the film heavily emphasises how revolutionary the discoveries of the couple – and how much gruelling labour went into their work – were, the harmfulness of their findings is also addressed from an early point, for example, a scene where Pierre talks about the dangers of radioactivity is cut with an atomic bomb going off. We see how the couple’s discoveries of the elements of polonium and radium led to the production of various products (and even a musical), and witness Pierre’s spiritualism come head to head with Marie’s pragmatism. Later, the relationship between Marie and her daughter Irene is tenderly portrayed, with Anya Taylor-Joy playing the grown-up aspirational scientist. An affair proves scandalous, as the public throw Marie under the bus, and her elongated mourning of Pierre is heart-breaking. Their aforementioned relationship of man and wife is truly the heart and soul of the biopic, but they’re trying to cover a lot more territory aside from it.
‘Radioactive’ is a mixed bag, thematically, tonally, and in its pacing. Generally speaking though, overall it is enjoyable and thought-provoking.