To be fair, it is difficult keeping the audience’s attention when making a movie about a famous scientist. Fake ones, like Doc from Back to Future, are a lot easier to pull off. Often these types of films are full of talking and little action. They also tend to present protagonists as dull or unlikeable people.
Last year, the 2017 film, The Current War, was finally brought to theaters after being criticized that it was too dull. The new revamped film called a “Director’s Cut” fared better with the critics and audiences who saw it, but it was still a flop at the box office and I suspect that will be the case for Radioactive available on Amazon Prime this weekend.
Radioactive is the tale of Marie Curie, her marriage to fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) and the scientific breakthroughs that they worked on together. Rosamund Pike does an amazing job portraying Marie and it is that performance that outshines the script. Although shot beautifully, director Marjane Satrapi doesn’t seem to know what type of movie she wanted to make. It is a love story between two scientists? A feminist story about science? A morality tale? It’s a little bit of all of them but what should have been exciting comes across as disjointed and dull. At times, the film even seems to turn on itself.
The film begins at its ending with Marie Curie falling ill at a hospital. As she is being wheeled away, she sees flashbacks of her life and the story restarts at the beginning in the late 19th century. Marie is scientist of Polish decent studying in Paris. She is one woman working aside a bunch of men who don’t want her around because her experiments take up too much space. However that changes when Marie meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) who not only thinks she is brilliant, but he has romantic intentions as well. Marie in turn is smitten and even goes against her own values of working alone to instead collaborate with Pierre. He is one of the few men who actually supports and values her.
The first third of the movie is the best which focus’ on Marie’s and Pierre’s love story. They are like the two nerds in school who find each other and talk about things no one else can understand. Together, they made the discovery of radioactivity which won them a Nobel Prize in physics and Marie the first woman to win such a prize. The couple marry and have two children together. This by itself is a very good story, but unfortunately, Radioactive continues through to the end of Marie’s life.
The longer the story goes, the muddier Radioactive gets. Throughout the film, the story takes detours into the future with short vignettes about future cancer treatments, the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. While this film appears to celebrate the achievements of the Curies it simultaneously knocks them down at the same time. The added scenes do drive home the point, but they feel incoherent and unnecessary. It’s hard to understand Marie let alone relate to her. Other characters in the film which could have been explored further, like fellow scientists and even Marie’s own daughters, are largely ignored. There are so many directions the film could have gone focusing on a few keys moments in Marie’s life, but instead, it tries to cover to them all. It’s still a love story, but one between a woman and science. In the end Marie is torn knowing that there is so much work left to do and at the same time wondering if it was all worthwhile. By the end of the film you might think the same thing.
Main image: Amazon Studios
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.