Directed by Marjane Satrapi
Review by Sarah List
Marie Curie surely must be one of the most recognizable names from science throughout history. Her research earned her an unprecedented two Nobel prizes in a time where women in science and medicine were few and far between, and even less likely to be recognized for their work (especially if there was a male that they collaborated with). A contemporary and colleague of Albert Einstein and the mother of Irene Joliet-Curie who went on to win her own Nobel prize with her husband, Curie’s life was exceptionally full and intriguing and an excellent candidate for a big screen depiction on the 100th anniversary of her second Nobel.
Radioactive opens with Curie floating in and out of consciousness on her deathbed in 1934, with the film serving as a glimpse into her life passing before her eyes. Stoically independent after the death of her mother at a young age, Curie’s brusque character marked her pathological shyness, and did not earn her any favours with the overwhelmingly male establishment who withdrew her lab space, creating a necessity to accept Pierre Curie’s offer for space in his. The reality of how they met was in fact quite different. She had space, but needed more, and Curie was able to secure that for her. This is an example of the frustrating depiction of Marie Curie’s life in this representation. No doubt she, as a female researcher of the time, faced battles that no male would. There are repeated embellishments of circumstances that did not occur, variations to the timeline of her life, and general addition of melodrama to what is already an intriguing life. The emotional and romantic slants are inflated to the point where her achievements appear more of a backdrop, and as a result, interesting and arguably key events in her life are omitted altogether. There’s no doubt that Marie and Pierre’s love and mutual respect was enormous, but they were in many ways cerebral partners rather than emotionally romantic.
The film also incorporates flash-forwards to the good and bad outcomes of her discoveries (radiotherapy for cancer, the impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and others) which further derail from her personal story. It gives the feeling that the studio could not decide what kind of film this should be, nor who was the intended audience.
However, there is heart to the narrative, and it’s especially impressive to see how such incredible achievements were made in the most basic of laboratories. It’s testament to genius of both Marie and Pierre that their work could be done in what basically amount to a shack, with extremely basic equipment. The work extracting the radium from pitchblend they themselves did was backbreaking and laborious. Only the most driven and inspired of individuals could have possibly achieved what they did in the conditions they worked in.