Radioactive – Marie Curie

Radioactive is a 2019 film starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie. It was directed by Marjane Satrapi.

Rosamund Pike first came on my radar in the movie Doom and then again in Gone Girl, although she’s been in several other movies and has many other credits to her name. In addition to being a director, Marjane Satrapi is also a comics artist of some interesting sounding and award-winning works. Her first film was an animated adaptation of her book, ‘Persepolis’, an autobiographical account of growing up in Iran. 

This film is a biopic about Marie Curie, a name (hopefully) familiar to most of us since childhood. She’s pioneered work and research in radioactivity and won not one, but two Nobel Prizes. The movie was adapted from another graphic novel, ‘Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by the American artist Lauren Redniss.

The influence of the graphic novel can clearly be seen in Marie’s dreamscapes. Particularly during her grief after Pierre’s death. The visualizations are gorgeously rendered and evoke not only the sense of loss but the sense of being unmoored. It’s visible in subtler ways as well, like the imagery of her always holding a small, glowing green vial like a talisman.

While ostensibly about her life, the movie also dives into future scenes demonstrating the impact of her work. From medical applications to nuclear weapons, the scope of the influence her work has on the world is immense. 

The movie seems to have garnered mixed reviews. I found Pike’s performance very convincing and enjoyed the lens through which Marie Curie was painted. I understand that some critics maintain that characterizations were false and that the film contained inaccuracies. That didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the movie for me – the embellishments helped form a cohesive narrative and portrayed her as a brilliant and driven woman. Thematically, it did a good job of getting that message across.

For a more accurate picture of her life, I suppose one would have to read a combination of biographies. Two that I’ve added to my own reading list are:

More interesting books about Marie Curie can be found here: 

Women Behind the Camera

The last time I posted here, I was contemplating what it meant when a character in a story had agency. Adjacent to that topic is the idea of representation in media. How often do you see characters like yourself and why is that important? 

Last fall I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘This Changes Everything’ which talked about the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in the film industry.

Remember the kid’s books in the 50’s? ‘See Dick, See Jane’

And I just felt like, you know, we see Dick all the time. 

I just wanted to see more Jane.

– Geena Davis

After watching the documentary, I headed to the internet to learn more. I started with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. ( The site has a lot of fascinating studies about mainstream media. 

For example, they have published a joint study about women over 50. Not surprisingly, men over 50 are portrayed more often than women over 50. Women over 50 are often regulated to support roles and LGBTQA+ or disabled representation in the age demographic is even more sparse.

The original premise, however, was studying the gender imbalances seen in media. From articles published in 2008-2010, they concluded that there’d been little forward movement, that “for nearly 60 years, gender inequality on screen has remained largely unchanged and unchecked.”

How about now?  Are we making any progress?

With the explosion of streaming services, there certainly seems to be more diversity with more options for entertainment now. But has any of that impacted the box office? Are the big studios keeping up?

I scoured Wikipedia for movies and Google for directors and found the following regarding 2022 films from the ‘Big Studios’:

  • Universal Pictures, 6 out of 29, 20% directed by women
  • Paramount Pictures, 1 out of 18, 5% directed by women
  • Warner Bros. Pictures, 4 out of 26, 15% directed by women
  • Walt Disney Pictures, 11 out of 43, 25% directed by women (none that were directed by women were a theatrical release)1
  • Columbia Pictures, 2 out of 10, 20% directed by women

This is just considering the gender of the director, which doesn’t take into account any of the other creative leads or decision-makers involved with making a film. Representation in everything from writers to producers to editors to score composers is slow to become equitable.

Until women are on equal footing behind the camera, we’ll unlikely be on equal footing in front of it. Until then, we can celebrate the movies directed by women so far and continue to seek out more representative material when we browse through streaming sites.

Some additional articles to help find movies to watch:



“Would it help if I got out and pushed?”

Why stories are important

What do we mean when we say a character has ‘agency’? We want to know if a character’s internal decisions move the plot or if the characters are passive with the plot being something that happens to them.

Consider Leia. In A New Hope, she grabs the blaster and directs the team’s escape into the trash compactor. She firmly tells Han she’s now in charge and she clearly knows her way around a briefing room. 

But does she have agency? 

~ Princess Leia, grabbing a blaster and assisting in her own escape. Star Wars (A New Hope) 1977

In that first movie, she is reaching out for help, listing her father’s connection as the reason General Kenobi should listen to her plea. 

Later, after she’s tortured and her world is destroyed, her grief is brushed aside in order for her to comfort Luke who has lost his home, but who seems to be mostly grieving for Ben – a mentor he’s had for the past couple of days.

In the second movie, she becomes the point of a possible love triangle between Han and Luke – the two main male characters the audience is meant to identify with. To add fuel to that “she must belong to someone” streak, Empire Stikes Back also gives us some flirty banter with Lando. It’s never clear to me if Lando flirted with her because he flirts with everyone or if he saw her with Han and wanted to take something from him like Han took Lando’s ship – I imagine it was a bit of both and either way reduces Leia to an object rather than a person. She’s a known leader of the actual rebellion and yet Vader doesn’t even bother with her – other than using her as bait. While she is granted a scene in which she’s once again brandishing a blaster, her role in this film is clearly that of the love interest.

She’s a known leader of the actual rebellion and yet Vader doesn’t even bother with her – other than using her as bait.  

Throughout the first two films, while she’s clearly positioned as a prop for the main protagonists, the objectification of her character isn’t too overt. There’s the story Carrie Fisher told of how George Lucas didn’t think women in space would wear bras, but that topic aside, she’s often dressed rather demurely. So demurely, in fact, that she is dressed all in white more than once (sans bra, we assume). In Empire Strikes Back she’s dressed in similar gear as other soldiers on Hoth, or in flowing robes when she’s on Bespin. 

~ Leia Organa, onboard the Millennium Falcon wearing Hoth uniform, Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back) 1980

It isn’t until the third movie that her character becomes highly sexualized. The objectification is rather blatant with the slave outfit. This isn’t a costume she chooses to wear to go undercover – that choice was very different (see Boushh, a bounty hunter). The skimpy slave outfit includes an actual chain. Yes, she uses that chain to kill Jabba and goes on to participate in the guerilla attack on Endor, but do either of those threads show her having agency? Her actions are determined by the plot, her actions are not driving the plot. Participating in the attack on Endor was something that was happening and the plot wanted her there.

~ Leia Organa, disguised as the late Boushh, standing before Jabba the Hutt. Star Wars (The Return of the Jedi) 1983. Image from (aka Wookiepedia)

Outside the movies, the Star Wars Universe is full of other storytelling. Books, comics, video games, animations, shows, additional movies, etc.  But in the first set of stories, in the first trilogy, I contend that Leia wasn’t afforded the same characterization and focus as Luke or even Han. She was a supporting character that strengthened both their stories. 

This isn’t a complaint, per se. Nor is it a new analysis – this is not something too many would bother arguing about. The Original Trilogy was about Luke, he was the hero of that story. And on that point, I find them enduring and endearing – I have a great love for Star Wars and his ‘hero journey’ makes for a satisfying tale.

Leia was considered one of the strongest female characters in media and pop culture for years. This is the role model we had as young girls. A character I am fond of and still admire – flaws in the narrative and all.

She was smart. She was beautiful. She was capable. She was brave. And she was still not important enough to become the hero of her own story.