Film Review: Radioactive

As flummoxed as I was when my husband said he had no idea who Marie Curie was, I’ll admit that my dramatically offended-on-her-behalf haughtiness was short lived as I only knew enough to say: “she’s only the biggest boss in the radiation world and queen of the Nobel Prize.” Suffice it to say, I was excited to learn more about her with Radioactive. Which I kind of did?

Basic Synopsis: Watch Marie Curie (and her husband, Pierre) discover radiation and then get blamed for everything that comes of it.

First Things First: Don’t sleep with a vial of radium, people.

Brief Thoughts: To put it simply, Radioactive is a poorly formed blend of three different storytelling techniques. It starts out pretty straight forward, with typical scenes that burn through the bullet points of Curie’s life in a very made for TV quick overview sort of way, barely giving anything to Rosamund Pike that would allow her performance to elevate itself past every other awkward, abrasively brilliant and socially inept genius put on screen. To mix it up, at some point Marjane Satrapi starts clunkily cutting in random flash forwards in an attempt to show the impact the Curies’ research and discoveries had on history, from a random kid getting radiation therapy, to America dropping the atomic bomb, to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Then things start to get experimental, with these brief scenes that are equal part perfume commercial, video art installation, and Ring video – stay tuned to see if I die in 7 days from radiation poisoning. At least the flash forwards make sense; I have no idea what to take away from these drug trips. And though I can appreciate Satrapi’s attempt to add character to the straight forward biopic narrative structure, this three part blend just didn’t work for me.

Quick Questions:

  • The music of Radioactive is best described as distractedly stressful. But did the heavy sci-fi influences make anyone else secretly hopeful that Marie Curie’s story included an alien abduction?
  • Did you also check your place in the film to make sure Anya Taylor-Joy’s sudden late appearance didn’t mean there was actually A LOT more time left in the film? (Side Note: watch Emma.)
  • Most importantly: did that group of spiritualists ever end up contacting Beethoven?

Biggest Complaint: In theory the flash forwards are a great way to fully express how important Marie Curie’s scientific contributions were (and still are). In practice, they constantly took me out of the film because they felt so disconnected from something that at first felt pretty disaffected and unbiased, before questions of accountability suddenly started getting kicked around, placing blame on someone who seemingly saw these ripples as more of an afterthought. Her husband was the one to ponder the moral quandary of radiation being weaponized (his Nobel Prize speech juxtaposed with the atomic bomb dropping in a way that calls these Americans criminals), whereas Marie Curie was just pissed people were putting her radium in everyday household and cosmetic items. But as Radioactive’s view of Curie shifted and her Parisian neighbors’ opinions soured towards her, Curie seemingly became equally to blame for a future nuclear power plant meltdown as she was for a friend’s marital woes. Is this what Radioactive is telling me? Is Marie Curie a villain?

Final Thoughts: Add Marie Curie to the list of 2020 film subjects that are definitely worth looking up on Wikipedia instead of watching the film itself (looking at you, Wasp Network).

So what’d you think of Radioactive? Be sure to let me know in the comments below or over on twitter, where you can find me at BewareOfTrees.

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