When Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a fifty nine year old carpenter meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mom from London, his life changes forever. Together they must meander through the cut throat negotiations of the red tape. This is a story about the brutal and inhumane natures of the impersonal British benefits system and how bad things can happen to good people. Ken Loach has developed a reputation over his career for making movies with a social commentary and movies that make you ashamed to be a human being because of how brutally honest they are. His latest movie packs a punch where it matters, whether those factors be: political, social or moral.
It impeaches the welfare system for moral crimes against humanity. It also indicts a system that has zero sense of responsibility or accountability, with each face hiding behind a “decision maker”, code for nonsensical bureaucratically ideologies. Welcome to Job Centre Plus and this is Jackass. Do not try this at home…oh wait! We are part of a society that reduces human beings to numbers on a spreadsheet. I, Daniel Blake is Karl Marx, Hard Times (Dickens) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) rolled into one. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s an acknowledgement of human decency. There are some good people out in the world who look after one another, even if the state neglects its citizens.
This movie is a barrage of hard and honest truths about “Broken Britain” using a sad widower and a struggling single mom as the film’s lens for its depiction of modern society. The script by Paul Laverty is truly remarkable. It’s brutal and dark yet often comedic and humorous. The performances from Johns and Squires are a gift from the heavens, as they show us the struggles of the Joe Bloggs in our troubling society. The film begins with Geordie Daniel Blake answering a thread of tedious questions from a “healthcare professional.” He’s recently had a heart attack at work and has been told to rest by his doctor.
Since he can walk fifty metres unassisted, he can go back to work. But he scored twelve points rather than the necessary fifteen so he must apply for jobseeker’s allowance, attend CV writing classes and go door-to-door job-hunting for jobs he’s not allowed to take. Simultaneously, Katie is being messed around, as she’s been sent to live on the other side of the country away from her family in London. She is made of stern stuff. “I’ll make this a home if it’s the last thing I do” she says to Daniel, who becomes a sort of father figure to her and her children.
Both characters are doing the best they can. Daniel is job hunting, trying to learn how to use a computer and helping Katie with her flat. Katie is doing the best she can with her kids, often starving herself so her kids can eat and she’s trying to better herself through the Open University. I have to be honest, their lodgings is often how Orwell described Winston Smith’s living conditions in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Before Daniel’s intervention, Katie’s lodgings were horrible to look at and the red tape seems to be getting even more immovable every passing day. Both Katie and Daniel are being manipulated by the vile system that pushes the needy to a cliff’s edge.
In 2016, we’re in a very digitised world. Even someone like me, who grew up with the internet wishes that he could apply for things through talking to people than having to go online all the time. The idea of having a face look back at you than a screen is somewhat more appealing. It often gives it legitimacy. There are many scenes with our male protagonist struggling with technology, often cursing at the cursor, which made me suffer a smirk. The Age Of The Internet has alienated Daniel and millions of people like him. They’re of a generation who grew up with pens, paper and good old-fashioned physical conversations.
The coming of the internet has basically deleted people like Daniel off society’s hard drive. Yet, Daniel’s circle has that community spirit, like his neighbour questionably unethical entrepreneur China (Kema Sikazwe) who helps him out. The internet is the enemy of the more mature generations but the friend of the youths of today. These a really emotional provocative scene in a food back involving a starving and desperate Katie. She’s on the brink of a mental and physical breakdown.
She’s been starving herself to feed her children and we see her rip open a tin of beans like nothing. It’s one of the most emotionally stirring scenes I’ve watched in forever and well-shot by Robbie Ryan (cinematographer). We feel unfathomably bad for Katie but it also shows us that there’s something wrong with society when we have good people having to go to a food bank. It’s enough to fill one up with sheer bloody hatred.
China tells Daniel “they’ll fuck you around, make it as miserable as possible…that’s the plan.” This is when it truly becomes Charles Dickens’ Hard Times; dark, dingy and dull. It’s horrible that these corporations use this indirect intimidation as a weapon in this way. “When you lose your self-respect you’re done for says” Blake. He’s absolutely right, and then decides to say “fuck it”, I’ve got nothing to lose and graffiti sprays the Job Centre building as a way of sticking it to the man and getting them to take notice. Only by getting them where they sleep, will they take notice of you. Riddled with comedy, social realism and excellent performance, this is a future classic for sure. This is no fairy tale and Loach has made a movie that is only but a snapshot depicting a sad indictment on a system designed to help people.