For decades, a basic textbook history understanding of Marie Curie has instructed students on the scientist’s breakthrough contributions to chemistry and physics. Next to her name on your study guide for early 20th-century scientific luminaries, you may have written “discovered polonium and radium, first woman to win the Nobel Prize, improved X-ray technology in World War I.” Marjane Satrapi’s Curie biopic, Radioactive, disappointingly offers little more beyond this knowledge already in the zeitgeist.
Though Curie is a worthy subject, this cinematic exploration is a flimsy attempt to join the women-in-STEM biographical drama movement kick-started by Hidden Figures, and doesn’t move the conversation forward in any new way. Satrapi (Persepolis) and screenwriter Jack Thorne (adapting Lauren Redniss’ biography-in-collage) present the same elementary school information on Curie in a comparably tired, period piece package.
And just like many a predictable history lecture, they draw parallels to the future of nuclear technology and its seedy underbelly by flashing forward to future events such as the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Not only are these conclusions ones that most viewers have already heard time and again, but they are also painstakingly force-fed throughout the narrative.
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) delivers a fine performance as Curie, but the repetitive script may make viewers resentful of Curie’s tireless work ethic and driving ambition while simultaneously weaving in a trite love story about her marriage to colleague Pierre Curie (Sam Riley, Maleficent). Satrapi attempts to salvage some of the script from its dryness by sprinkling in hallucinatory sequences, perhaps as an allusion to the effects of radiation poisoning that eventually killed Curie at age 66. These scenes — paired with a synthesizer-heavy, retrofuturistic score — breathe some welcome life into the movie and offer a break from its otherwise stuffy historical feel.
On a basic level, it’s commendable of filmmakers like Satrapi to continue to lift up the advancements of women in male-dominated fields. Unfortunately, outside of Curie’s incredible true story, Radioactive offers little of note on a cinematic level and leaves the door open for another filmmaker to do justice to her accomplishments.
Available to stream starting July 24 via Amazon Prime Video