Is it just me, or is it odd that what is supposed to be a biography celebrating Nobel Peace prize winner Marie Curie and her findings, she discovered polonium and radium with her husband, turns out to be a scathing piece of how her discoveries hurt the world more than it helped? RADIOACTIVE doesn’t know what kind of tone it wants to have, completely nose diving in its second half narrative wise when the first half was somewhat enjoyable. The only constant this movie has is a wonderful performance by Rosamund Pike as Curie, probably her best performance since Gone Girl and A Private War. The film is mostly told in a linear fashion but is continuously disrupted by a flash forward to where her discoveries ended up costing the lives of millions, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Chernobyl’s meltdown. To top it all off, when doing actual research into what really happened in Curie’s life versus what I witnessed play out on screen, a lot of it is very, very inaccurate. Not only inaccurate to her character/personality depiction, but also with historical and scientific events. What this all boils down to is that you can’t use this film an educational or biographical source. So then what can you use it as? A piece of entertainment? No, because the pacing and lack of focus in the second half of the film made me droopy eyed. Can you use it as a uplifting yet cautionary tale on science? No and that is why the movie ultimately doesn’t work, there are so many mixed messages in this that it ends up pointing to nothing.
Per IMDB, it describes Radioactive as: “Pioneer – Rebel – Genius. Radioactive is incredible, true-story of Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her Nobel Prize-winning work that changed the world.” After seeing this movie, doing some research and then reading the description, I scoffed and laughed when I got to the word ‘true.’ In the film, it depicts Curie as advising her daughter Irene (a minor background role wasting actress Anya Taylor-Joy’s talents) against a career in science, when in fact she encouraged her daughter in the subject, welcomed Irene into her laboratory, and even started an experimental school for her in which Curie ending up teaching lessons on physics. Also, in the film the both Curie and her future husband almost laughingly meet in a classic rom-com manner. Marie literally runs into him on the streets of Paris, and he notices what she’s reading. In reality, Marie and Pierre met when a Polish professor of physics introduced them, because he knew Marie was looking for laboratory space and thought Pierre would be able to provide it. Also in the movie she constantly blames her sickness on her studies in radiation when there is no historical proof that she ever really truly acknowledged the dangers of her career. Yeah…I don’t want to say it because I hate the man that coin phrased it…but this movie is in fact, “fake news.” That is just a few examples, but believe you me, this movie takes many, many liberties with what really went down during that time.
I understand that ‘true story’ films from Hollywood always take some liberties, it is just that this movie took several too many when it could’ve easily adhered to the facts and made the movie much more interesting in the process. Historical and personality inaccuracies aside, it’s the tone, messages, and pacing of the second half of the film that make it almost completely unwatchable. At one moment the film was trying to celebrate her life in how hard she worked to achieve her goals and make discoveries, and the next minute the film was like, “look what your findings ended up doing, you bitch!” It’s as if the movie was trying to do a very straight adaptation on the subject, and in the middle of it, while you are watching it at a theater, suddenly a Karen stands up, pauses the movie, and starts pointing and yelling at the screen about how much she is triggered by what she is witnessing. Disgracing the audience for feeling for Marie Curie and her family when her discoveries did more harm than good. The film couldn’t pick a tone, and it constantly had a bunch of time lapses that ended up being hard to keep track of. To sum it up, I got bored and I didn’t care what happened anymore about 55 minutes into this hour and 49 minute movie. Things get even more confusing right before the end credits with title cards detailing how great her discoveries were, with X-Rays during World War I and such. It didn’t know whether it wanted to praise or condemn her, and in doing both, muddled everything it was trying to say and gave its audience a surreal experience that I never want to take part in again.
I don’t blame director Marjane Satrapi, as the imagery and shots in this are better than average. The real person to blame is the screenwriter, Jack Thorne, who unsurprisingly also co-wrote the very historically inaccurate 2019 film The Aeronauts, whose first half was much better than its second as well. Maybe he needs to take lessons on how to better construct the second half of the stories that he writes. Maybe instead of taking liberties with the material he is trying to adapt, he should take lessons on how to accurately portray events and still make them interesting on screen, instead of making shit up, and still having the final product come out tire-some, boring, and sloppy. His too on-the-nose writing with characters ceremoniously announcing the film’s themes and their personal motivations as they go along, makes the film completely by-the-numbers drivel that will be forgotten about in one month’s time. It’s no wonder that Amazon Prime quickly snatched this up after its theatrical premiere was cancelled due to COVID-19. It was probably really cheap to do so as the studio probably had no faith in it. Only if you are a Rosamund Pike performance completist can I recommend this film to you. She’s stunning and really good and the only part of the film, save for some of the first half, that works. I’m going for the easy last sentence sum it up pun joke here, so forgive me, but just like radium itself, you should stay far away from Radioactive.