Radioactive (2019)

Taking liberties with the life of famed Nobel Prize-winning physicist Marie Curie by basing this “biopic” around the graphic novel “Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout”, Marjane Satrapi’s film is very much a case of style over substance.

For a film supposedly about Curie (Rosamund Pike, doing the best she can with uneven material) and her advances in science, Radioactive does its best to convince us otherwise, setting the narrative up in the initial stages to be predominantly a love story between the Polish born Curie (nee Sklodowska) and Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), a French physicist.  We get a meet-cute and plenty of sequences of the two basking in each other’s glory, but, much like the science depicted throughout, it’s all whittled down to hastily-edited montages.

In some form of twisted logic, perhaps these quickly delivered sequences of Marie shovelling coal and iron are demonstrating her ability to work autonomously, an example of self-devotion to her work.  It’s a reach, because otherwise it unfortunately just drives home Satrapi’s inability to stronghold her material.  Marie Curie is someone who deserves a dedicated feature, not one where her key moments are sped through at a rapid pace in order to celebrate the next accomplishment, leaving the Jack Thorne-penned script to never really grab us with anything worthy as any moment that should garner focus is moved on from within literal seconds.

Where the film oddly decides to place its care is in moments concerning themselves with the radioactivity the Curies discover and its future use, both as a treatment for cancer and its unfortunate weaponisation.  These flash forwards are enticing on a visual level, as is the case with the majority of the film, but they fail to hold any weight to the overall production; it doesn’t help either that these time jumps make Radioactive feel incredibly disjointed from a narrative standpoint.

Given director Satrapi’s previous works (the graphic novels “Chickens with Plums” and “Persepolis”, adapting the latter to an animated feature) it makes sense why the source material was something she was drawn to, and perhaps could have been an intriguing animated film itself.  Radioactive feels far too disorientating as a feature, distancing its audience from its subject when it’s so apparent it’s trying with might to frame her as a figure of admiration.

Radioactive is screening in select Australian cinemas now.

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