Life doesn’t always go according to plan. It doesn’t come with instructions either. There are books that can guide you, but they are only for preparation and anticipation. They do not help you avert the unexpected. Even though we can do our best to lead good lives, there will be circumstances we face that will put us in an unfortunate position and force us to make drastic decisions. How society can expect our dignity and humanity to remain wholly intact in these trying times is astounding. If we ourselves were in this desperate situation, we would do anything to be whole and proud again, but first, we have to overcome obstacles of immense mental and physical strain. Sometimes the solution is more dangerous to us than the problem.
In I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a widower who recently suffered a heart attack and was deemed unable to work by his doctor. When he attempts to obtain financial assistance from the city to supplement his medical leave, he is told that he must follow the proper procedure. A procedure that includes computers and smartphones. Daniel has been working for decades in construction and none of this has ever been a necessity to him until now. As he attempts to traverse the bureaucracy of his government, he meets Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two kids. Katie also struggles to find a compassionate ear to help her get by. Daniel and Katie strike up a friendship, but, while they both provide some respite for each other from job hunting and poverty, they are left with few options to escape their predicament. They can only hope that things will get better; and yet there is only so much any of us can endure.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. It pulls you into Daniel’s world from the first scene and also gives you an immediate impression of who he is as a person. The pride and honor he displays in both his work ethic and personal life show you that he is not starting off on this journey from a place of malice or malcontent. It’s only when the relentless interviews, paperwork, and unnecessary job hunting overwhelm him that his willingness to break the rules takes shape. It should never be so hard to ask for or get help, and we should never be ridiculed for suffering. When our world comes crashing down, we either take ownership of our problems and blame ourselves for what isn’t working; or we take stock of the matter and realize something is seriously wrong. The people that are designed to help us in our time of need are setup to watch us fail even further. At least that’s the way the government in this movie operates. I’m sure you can find similarities in your own as well.
The performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires are brilliant and sincere. Their portrayal of two people who unexpectedly meet and need each other by default is heartbreaking, but there is a charm to their interactions. Their shared experiences allow for that occasional moment of sympathetic reflection. They are now on the same journey for as long as it lasts and they will do what they can to make it through to the next day. The determination, strength, and vulnerability these two actors convey to us on screen are so well done, I remained enthralled by every turn the story took.
I should also credit the directing and editing because every scene felt concise and necessary. Each one had value and ended at the right time. I love how the film captured this specific world of Daniel Blake but showcased it in a way that made it relevant for anyone who has endured hardship. There were no physical villains to focus on, which some films tend to have. Instead, the system became the villain. The faceless apathy that lurks behind every customer service rep telling them they must do things a certain way without regard for the human being standing in front of them. We can all understand that situation, and you may have even been the unfortunate person to dole out that injustice. When you want to work, pay your bills, and keep your family healthy and happy, you make sacrifices that you weren’t prepared for. You do these things because it’s important to you. Your loved ones are important to you. It’s not fair that the country you helped support would choose to support you by developing a system that encourages desperate measures.
At face value, it may appear that this movie has a real sad premise, a litany of setbacks, but I would argue that it offers a wake-up call to the perils of government bureaucracy and how we should make every effort to demand change. Our weakness is that we feel powerless when faced with overwhelming adversity. In actuality that adversity is nothing when you realize we are strong as a collective; and by speaking as one, we can enact change in a number of ways. We just need to encourage open communication and a system that provides easy access to information so it can be properly disseminated to the public. It’s easy to just point to a website and blame people for not reading it, but it should be made abundantly clear to anyone, regardless of the tool they use to access their news, what is going on with their government and what laws we need to know about.
I, Daniel Blake is a powerful story of injustice that I highly recommend for kids and adults. Dave Johns is a standout for me and he is the real reason I was so invested in the story. The direction by Ken Loach can’t be understated. The message inherent in this movie is not overt, but it is all-encompassing. The hurdles one endures to receive assistance can destroy you on the inside and this movie inspires me to be resilient in my resolve to not settle for anything short of human decency. We all should be treated with respect and not pushed through the system like a file number. Everybody’s circumstances are different and must be taken into account. The infrastructure that provides assistance may be hampered by financial constraints, but we need to look at our overall tax dollars and make better choices how they are dispersed. Many have made this statement in some fashion or another and it certainly applies to this film. A society should always be judged by how it treats its less fortunate citizens.
I, DANIEL BLAKE:
About I, Daniel Blake
Synopsis: After having suffered a heart-attack, a 59-year-old carpenter must fight the bureaucratic forces of the system in order to receive Employment and Support Allowance.
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan
Runtime: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes