Review: ‘Radioactive’

Marjane Satrapi’s new film about the extraordinary life of pioneering scientist Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) begins almost at the end of her life. We see her working tirelessly before collapsing off-screen, followed by a gurney trip down a long hallway where her life flashes before her eyes, becoming the film that we’ll watch for the next two hours.

Radioactive shows us Marie’s life as both rewarding and perpetually haunted. The groundbreaking work she did as a scientist discovering two new elements in the late nineteenth century (being radium and polonium) and their unknown combustibility, as well as finding the love of her life in partner and husband Pierre (Sam Riley) certainly resonate as the happier and productive times.

However, personal tragedy, reluctant skepticism from the French intellectual society and some nifty temporal film shifts into the future about how her elements would ultimately be used by advanced societies reveal a woman whose breakthroughs in science could never compensate for some of her personal losses.

As Marie Curie, actress Pike doesn’t reduce her character to anything less than strong, and its her portrayal that carries most of the film. The way she barbs with fellow (male) counterparts when they don’t trust her or how she gently pleads with her adult daughter (Anya Taylor Joy) to remain safe as she serves as a nurse during World War I strips away the normal stuffy biopic regard and make her a compelling and dimensional lead.

Another way that Radioactive skirts the traditional trappings of the genre is when it dares to jump ahead in specific moments of time when radium changed the facade of humankind- from the major (think World War II) to the minor (a young child receiving experimental chemotherapy). Some have questioned this feat, but I found it to be a sobering reminder that the best intentions are often laced with horrifying consequences as time and science advances. If there is a heaven, what do all the creators think of their creations?

Based on the graphic novel “Radioactive” by Lauren Redniss (and adapted by Jack Thorne), this is the second such adaptation tackled by director Satrapi after Persepolis (2007). Here she also wisely keeps some of the novel’s more fantastic elements, such as the tangled shadows of Marie and Pierre rising into the air as they make love or the eerie mood of a seance Marie is dragged to by her friends, initially discrediting them and then falling to her knees in total sadness when she asks the medium for help later in life. Again, its a scene that’s been done before, but Pike imbues it with such guttural ferocity that her cries cut to the bone and Satrapi finds the delicate balance between history and emotion.

At the beginning of Radioactive, we glimpse that Marie’s hands are scarred and red from years of handling her precious elements, and the now understood after-effects were just being whispered about. The thing she discovered ended up killing her, but not before she got the chance to use an X-ray machine and save the lives and limbs of countless soldiers during the war. As her solemn face reveals while being transported on that gurney, there’s no remorse. Radioactive is a good depiction of someone who truly made mankind better, no matter how horribly others would twist her inventions.

Radioactive begins streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday July 24th.