A Radioactive Movie Review
Released in 2019/20, directed by Marjane Satrapi, with Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie and Sam Riley as Pierre Curie
Description: After the death of her beloved husband, Marie Curie’s commitment to science remains strong as she tries to explain previously unknown radioactive elements. But it soon becomes terrifyingly evident that her work could lead to applications in medicine that could save thousands of lives — or applications in warfare that could destroy them by the billions.
I was curious about this movie from the moment I heard about it. Marie Curie is a fascinating figure, but not one that I knew much about. I came away with a much better idea of how she discovered the djinn of radioactivity and what happened next, but it was a mixed experience.
First off, this was a beautiful movie filled with lush visual detail. Rosamund Pike gave a splendid performance as Marie Curie, who proved to be a prickly, brilliant, egotistical but ultimately sympathetic woman far ahead of her time. Sam Riley played the appealing husband. At times it felt like the story leaned on their romance to give shape to the plot, but that only lasted (obviously) until Pierre Curie’s death. After that, the plot scampered off with more enthusiasm than focus.
The difficulty with telling a story about a real person and real events is that life doesn’t follow a three-act structure. As a result, the film splooshed out of its narrative bounds in an attempt to capture events not fitting the timeline. The assorted uses of radiation—from medicine to Hiroshima to Arizona bomb tests—come stampeding across the screen at random moments. A few passages got too arty—and kind of trippy—for any real coherence.
Overall, it felt as if the film wasn’t entirely sure what it was trying to be. A romance? A biography? A social commentary about the dangers of uncontrolled scientific inquiry? A super cool montage with mushroom clouds?
To be fair, I still enjoyed the ride. After all, we are talking about a Victorian-set film about a strong and opinionated woman of science. I wish however, the writers had formed a better idea of what they wanted to say about the subject. There was a lot to like here, especially Pike’s performance, but the film seemed to get in its own way.
Recommended, but best when in an easy-going frame of mind, possibly with wine involved.