By Nick Maylor
Radioactive is based on the graphic novel Radioactive: Pierre & Marie Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout. This engrossing biopic features yet another stunning performance from Rosamund Pike as the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, Marie Curie (born Maria Salomea Skłodowska). Curie was a pioneer in developing the theory of radioactivity and along with her husband, discovered the elements radium and polonium. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie. She then won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Director Marjane Satrapi has crafted an affecting celebration of female empowerment, human struggle, the pursuit of knowledge and the consequences of power.
The film chronicles Marie’s childhood where she witnessed her mother’s death to illness, something that marks her so much that she steadfastly refuses to enter hospitals as an adult. Following her sister to France, Marie proceeds with her studies of physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the University of Paris. As a professional, Marie is blunt, socially awkward, fiercely independent and staunchly anti-collaborative. She has resolved herself never to depend on anyone else but herself. Accepting charity or help is not in her nature. The patriarchy of the University becomes frustrated with her demanding nature and off-putting demeanor so much that she is told to leave their laboratory space to pursue her work elsewhere. Having run out of options, she is subject to a chance encounter on a street with a French scientist named Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) who courts Marie not just because of his attraction to her, but because he has a profound respect for her work as a scientist.
Offering her laboratory space, the two take a mutual professional respect as a good sign that collaboration is something that would suit their mutual interests. Marie is steadfastly opposed to this idea at first but Pierre eventually persuades her. Professional respect becomes love and the two marry, starting a family and continuing their scientific endeavors as a team. In a setting where patriarchal standards are the norm and women are expected to be housewives, Marie is a notable exception. Despite the prevailing ideas of the day, the relationship between Marie and Pierre is peppered with mutual admiration, respect and the pursuit of equality.
The way their two brilliant minds bounce off each other, filtered through their respective personalities is fascinating to watch. Pike shines in every moment, every nuance and every quirk. Riley’s calm and reassuring manner is the perfect yin to her yang.
The film goes on to explore Marie’s life after Pierre’s death. Although he died in a horse carriage accident, Pierre had long been showing signs of severe sickness which we later learn is due to radiation.
The film features surreal dream sequences and jumps back and forth through time. As Marie’s life story unfolds, the rippling effects of her work throughout history are explored. We are transported to the cockpit of the Enola Gay as it drops the bomb on Hiroshima. We see the first uses of X-Rays in hospitals. There is a striking sequence of the first responders to the Chernobyl disaster where we are taken directly into the heart of the massive nuclear furnace as the tsunami of radiation pours outward.
Rosamund Pike is exceptional and could easily be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. She shares great chemistry with Sam Riley. The film has a feverishly haunting score that combined with the confident direction from Marjane Satrapi gives us a tense, satisfying drama.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor