‘Radioactive’ Review: An Unbalanced Biopic With A Radiant Rosamund Pike

A powerful, exceptional performance

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Chernobyl disaster, and many other Radium induced disasters, accidents and incidents have surely cast a shadow over the achievements of the gifted scientist, Marie Curie, who discovered the element in the first place. But it doesn’t undermine her brilliance, innovativeness, or daring to demand equality in a male-dominated era in any way. Her discovery was with the aim of bettering the human race, who negated the positive effects of an amazing innovation.  And that’s why the recently released biopic on her life, Radioactive, helmed by actress Rosamund Pike’s magnetic performance, is a fitting, if not exactly perfect, reminder of her exceptional legacy.

Directed by Oscar-nominated director Marjane Satrapi, the feminist biopic, Radioactive, narrates the exploits of Marie Curie (played beautifully by Pike) who redefined the definition of the atom, established the term radioactivity by discovering radium and polonium, and thus aided in laying down the foundation for atomic energy.

Radioactive begins on a sombre note- It is 1934 and Rosamund Pike’s Curie is near death in Paris, as via flashbacks we witness events starting from the 1890s enfold when Curie as a young researcher was busy trying to break the gender stereotypes. We see her asking (read: demanding) the Academy’s board of misogynist old men to respect her, her work, and the laboratory where she is working. Their answer? She is thrown out. 

Marjane Satrapi introduces the viewer to the life, work, struggles, and achievements of Marie Curie- from the difficulties she faced to find funding and respect as a female scientist, discovering radium and polonium with her husband, scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) only to be sidelined when their discovery landed the Nobel Prize. How she fought to be recognized, how the Nobel Prize committee, while adding her name, still looked down upon her, the backlash she received when her discovery (which she didn’t file a patent for) lead to new applications of radium and not all were good. She lost her husband within a few years of her marriage and the struggles to find her place in a man’s world didn’t end.

But she rallied on with a fervour which has been exceptionally mimicked by Rosamund Pike in Radioactive with her stirring performance. She brought to life the legendary life story of an icon, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields- physics and chemistry, and many other “firsts” that laid down a revolutionary path for women after her. 

As Curie, Pike is authentic and heart-wrenchingly convincing as later in the film, she confesses to her daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie (who went on to win a Nobel Prize herself), that her complete dedication to science hardly brought her any happiness in life.  

Rosamund Pike fleets from scene to scene, across flashbacks, beautifully playing the conflicted life of the legendary Curie, who was once a fresh mind, excited to contribute to science and its development, only to age within years with guilt and regret in her heart, which did not lessen even as she saved countless lives and died trying. Marie Curie wasn’t perfect- just like everyone, she had her flaws and Pike brings that to Radioactive with her most humane portrayal. 

But Radioactive is riddled with narrative shortcomings and had it been someone else in place of Pike, it would have lost the impact of being a biopic that daring explores both the positive and negative aspects of a character. 

The biopic flounders the most in the scenes where it cuts away from a smoothly flowing scene to show the future impacts of Curie’s discovery, unknown at the time, or the cliched application of biopic narration. Radioactive would have fared well if it had refrained from focusing on the “bigger picture” and embraced the originality it was so capable of. But again, it is Rosamund Pike and her powerful performance that keeps Radioactive pulsing ahead.

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