Maria Salomea Skłodowska, born in Poland, migrated to France and became the renowned physicist and chemist who pioneered the research into radium and discovered radioactivity. She was tormented by the men in her field but powered through the tough times by giving back exactly what she received.
The film opens in Paris. The year is 1934. An older Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) is being rushed to the hospital. Memories of the past, when she first meets her husband and partner in all things science-related, Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), invade her thoughts. Afterward, we’re immediately shown the difficulties she had not only, as a woman, to believe in science, but dare request some sort of equal treatment. No matter what she offered, she was never good enough.
When she’s evicted from her lab, she meets Pierre. He offers help, in that she can join him, which she first refuses. This is where I believe the script went too far giving Marie a lifeless quality that’s hard to disregard. There was a love between her and Pierre that she felt deeply, but the director, Marjane Satrapi, wanted to show her in such an independent light that it never allowed Marie to be kindhearted. She constantly refuses Pierre but when she finally welcomes him into her life, we’re struggling with seeing her having a desire, or even the ability, to do so. She was afraid of being seen as anyone other than a scientist and didn’t want to carry around the label of just a woman in the field. This makes her cold and hard but when she decides she has no other choice, even though she isn’t impressed with Pierre’s lab, she joins him but she comes with rules. One of those rules is that she will not be his mistress. That doesn’t last long.
‘Radioactive’ isn’t on a linear timeline. It jumps back and forth, which may also have the audience perplexed with how they feel about the characters. Something is off. It’s not easy to pinpoint how you feel about any of them at first and you’re confused about why the story launches from where it does. There’s a flashback which shows young Marie with her ill mother who’s promising her child that she won’t die. The next scene is the funeral. I hope this wasn’t meant to elicit some feelings because it doesn’t. What you get from it is that Marie doesn’t have time to play games. She has to be serious and from that point on, that’s how she’ll be.
With what Marie offers the world, this story should blow you away. She is a critical vessel in the world of science, yet here you’ll barely feel that her achievements meant that much. Not only did she help discover radioactivity but founded two Curie Institutes. They are in Paris and Warsaw and remain major hubs for medical research today. During the first World War, she purchased ambulances and developed mobile radiography units, better known as X-rays, for use on the battlefield. This endeavor was funded by melting down her Nobel prize medals. She did this with her daughter Irène, played by Anya Taylor-Joy.
What Marie Curie did was change the world. She saved millions of lives but one thing that plagues the minds of the viewer, the filmmaker, as well as Marie herself as she knew it was killing her, is what her invention has and will lead to in the hands of the wrong person. Satrapi shows us in various ways, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and the creation of nuclear weapons, how the discovery of Radiology was necessary but how things may have been better if it had never found.
In the long run, the cast saves the film from being a bore-fest, but overall, it is mundane, to say the least. Watch not for its entertainment value so much as the more historical information that it gives.
Director Marjane Satrapi
Writers Jack Thorne (screenplay by), Lauren Redniss (based on the book by)
Stars Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Yvette Feuer, Mirjam Novak and Anya Taylor-Joy
Running Time 1h 49m
Genres Biography, Drama, Romance