I Daniel Blake
I, Daniel Blake won the BAFTA for best British film of 2016 as well as well as the 2016 Palm d’Or at Cannes but has just been released in the US. It is the story of a blue-collar construction worker, played by Dave Johnson, in Newcastle UK who is on government benefits after having suffered a heart attack. For some inexplicable reason, the government decides to take him off the benefits despite his doctors telling him he can’t go back to work. Daniel’s travails as he tries to work within the system to reinstate his benefits will resonate with most viewers – particularly the hours spent on the phone “on hold” waiting for a representative only to get a bureaucratic response that is useless. In addition, Daniel, like many in a similar situation, is computer illiterate but forced to apply for benefits on-line. His mostly unsuccessful attempts as he tries his hardest to do what is asked of him are heartbreaking.
While giving it his all to work within the system, Daniel meets another victim, Katie (played hauntingly by Haley Squires), a single mother of two who has been forced to leave her home in London for a government sponsored apartment in Newcastle. She is unable to find work and struggles to put food on the table for her kids. He befriends her and helps fix things around the apartment to help her out. Daniel, a widower with no children, is also friends with his neighbor, a young Black man who is in to selling Chinese sneaker knock-offs out of his car but always looking out for his older mate. The unrelated people form somewhat of a “family”, looking out and caring for one another while life continually delivers them hard knocks. Katie’s attempts to get a job and better her situation culminate in a devastating scene where she is so hungry that she takes the top of a can of beans in a food bank and tries to get the food in her mouth while she is breaking down.
The Director, Ken Loach has effectively depicted a story of how poor working class people who want desperately to be contributing members of society fail because the “system” destroys them despite their best efforts. There is a call-out against what seems to be the privatization of part of the British welfare system at the beginning of the film as a faceless American company “health worker” denies Daniel his benefits without any real understanding of his situation. Apparently, Loach’s political views are far left and his movies represent his perspective. I Daniel Blake is no exception. You will come out of this movie exhausted and sad, questioning not only England’s state sponsored programs but what it must be like in the USA for Vets trying to get medical care via a somewhat similar system. Although I found the film to be excellent, it is a tough, tough movie to watch – there is no happy ending here. The themes of resilience and perserverance are prevalent throughout the film but despite a few moments of glory, and even a few comedic ones, the good people are all crushed.