Full disclosure, my introduction to Marie Curie was through an episode of Animated Hero Classics. Being only thirty minutes and meant for a younger demographic, it could only dig so deep into Curie’s lifetime of achievements. With a longer runtime, Radioactive provides a more thorough exploration into Curie’s life, painting an often-absorbing portrait of a beautiful mind. Given how much Curie accomplished, though, the film was perhaps destined to feel rushed in parts. To truly do Curie justice, a miniseries likely would’ve been the ideal route to take. As a 110-minute biopic, though, Radioactive gets the basics down with capable direction and a stunning lead performance.
Rosamund Pike’s layered portrayal of Marie Curie is reason enough to seek out Radioactive. Pike is resilient as a genius scientist who’s grown up fending for herself. When she meets the supportive Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), Marie is reluctant to let him into her heart or – even more sacred – her mind. Nevertheless, Pierre wins Marie over with sincerity and understanding. Together, they introduce the scientific community to two new elements: polonium and radium. Their groundbreaking discoveries would prove to be a double-edged sword, however, on one hand helping to battle cancer and on the other hand advancing the atomic bomb’s development.
Radioactive switches gears throughout, starting out as a modest romance, then becoming a morality tale, and closing out with a redemption story of sorts. One can’t help but wish that the film took a little more time, allowing certain moments to really sink in. It feels like there was enough material here that could’ve been stretch into a three-hour movie, or preferably three episodes of a TV show. Anya Taylor-Joy in particular could’ve used more screen time as Irene Curie, Marie’s daughter. Nevertheless, each storyline here is well-executed. The love story is a charming one, Marie’s struggles are emotionally compelling, and the film will leave you with a newfound appreciation for what this woman went through.
The way Radioactive tackles sexism is especially refreshing. It’s clear from the beginning that Marie is among the few women in her field and has been fighting an uphill battle for respect. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the Nobel Committee considers honoring Pierre, but not Marie. Yet, Radioactive doesn’t constantly remind us of this. Marie’s battle is more internal as she deals with the consequences of the war, the sudden loss of a loved one, and her deep-rooted fear of opening up.
Weirdly enough, a part of me wishes that Radioactive was an animated feature. This isn’t because the Animated Hero Classics episode left such a huge impression on me, but because the film’s director is Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi previously gave us the autobiographical comic Persepolis, which she helped adapt into an Oscar-nominated animated film. Satrapi’s own life story parallels Marie’s in many respects, making her an inspiring choice to helm the project. Parts of Radioactive bring out Satrapi’s visual flair, but this could’ve been taken one step further in another medium. Then again, it’s better to judge a movie for what it is rather than for what it isn’t. For what it is, Pike’s performance, Satrapi’s direction, and several effective scenes make for a winning formula.
Radioactive is available exclusively on AMAZON PRIME, this Friday, July 24, 2020.