RADIOACTIVE – Film Review

In flashback, like many a good biographical film, Madame Curie reflects on her early days as a struggling scientist. Kicked out of her laboratory, the feisty (and unmarried) Polish scientist accepts space in another laboratory, that of Monsieur Curie.
She initially eschews anyone’s help, but soon she sees the mutually beneficial logic of working with her lab partner.
Their relationship evolves, perhaps a bit too cleverly, but soon they are married and the couple is bicycling off into the countryside at Versailles. They frolic and skinny dip, showing us that their passions extend beyond the strictly scientific.
It is uncertain where their funding comes from, but eventually after four years from four tons of ore they extract a pinprick of two new elements – radium and polonium, with radioactivity discovered as a result.
The look and feel of the production is enjoyable. The labs with pipettes, brass tubes and exotically shaped glass containers certainly evoke the era.
The concept of radioactivity soon takes hold in commercial products like chocolate, cosmetics, seances and dances. But we jump from 1893 to 1957 to understand that a cancer treatment is a beneficial result.
And other flashes forward to 1945 and 1986 reveal the terrible power of their discovery of radioactivity: Hiroshima and Chernobyl. The filmmakers astutely point out that such destruction was not the fault of the Curies.
Explaining the science to the viewer while avoiding exposition is handled pretty well via dialogue with civilian dinner partners.
Rosamund Pike is convincing as Madame Curie. Her steely-eyed devotion to science is challenged when her husband dies in a hit and run horse and buggy incident. As Pierre Curie Sam Riley is well cast.
Despite her Polish upbringing and everyone else being French, the entire cast speaks with an English accent, an admittedly minor quibble.
Madame Curie becomes the first female professor at the Sorbonne, and then also pushes the edge of the envelope when she takes up with a married scientist. Xenophobic elements want her to leave France, but she forges ahead and is honored with a second Nobel Prize (the only person to be honored in two fields, physics and chemistry).
She is plunged into the horrors of World War I, volunteering on behalf of French soldiers. Her portable X-ray machines were used a million times and saved soldiers from countless amputations.
Director Marjane Satrapi keeps the pace suitably engaging and the score by Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine is evocative.
In the end, we realize that neither Madame Curie nor radium (the radioactive element she discovered) behave as expected.
The film does a great job of revealing the implications of discovering radioactivity, at both Curie’s personal level and at the global level.

Trailer available here.


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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