What is one human trying to live on the state welfare as he is unable to work for poor health? To the state he is just a beneficiary or a to-be-beneficiary, if he has applied for the benefits. What is a person who wants to get the welfare for jobless? He is also a beneficiary to the bureaucratic state. But the apart from being a beneficiary these persons have something else in common. Before being registered for welfare, they all had to endure a state sponsored bureaucratic torture during applying for the welfare, where human emotional problems are tested using some dumb questionnaire, computer forms, telephone calls and above all dumb and emotionless humans who does not even have an empathy towards the sufferers or to the word fraternity. Many people unable to cope with this torture are unable to complete the process and many are literally kicked out in the screening process for the welfare. Their humanity is compromised for time being and their identity as a unique emotional person is lost; everyone is treated with equal moral passiveness which is cruelty, to be blunt. Against this sociopathic, identity-sucking bureaucracy stands up Daniel Blake, a widower, a worker who refused to lose his individuality to the system.
Ken Loach had started his career with Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1969), both of which were a part of the British cultural movement of the 60s known as Kitchen Sink Realism. He continued making many feature films which reflected the struggles of the common especially working class people. His films, be it feature or television, embrace a common struggle of the people whose voices are unheard in any form of popular media. His latest film I, Daniel Blake is one of his most political if not the most political film, amongst all those he made till now. He attacks lack of employment, complete digitalisation, bureaucracy, privatisation and mostly rights among many other issues; but he did not make a propagandist film.
“I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user. I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar nor a thief. I am not a national insurance number, nor a blip on a screen. I paid my dues, never a penny short, and was proud to do so. I don’t tug the forelock but look my neighbour in the eye. I don’t accept or seek charity. My name is Daniel Blake, I am a man, not a dog. As such I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more, nothing less. Thank you.”
The above lines are written by Daniel to say during his appeal but are read by Katie at his funeral. Dan is a carpenter who is recovering from cardiac arrest and tries to get the state welfare as his doctor told him not to work for some time. But he is rejected as he can lift both his arms to his head, press telephone buttons, set an alarm clock and some other ridiculous activities which did not have anything to do with Dan’s heart. He visits the company’s office but is showered with bizarre rules regarding their proceedings. He didn’t get any help but meets Katie, a single mother of two; he comes to her support entangling himself more with the American agency officials entrusted with this sorting. He helps Katie settling down, who was forced to relocate to avail benefits. He takes care of her family and takes the position of father figure to her and a playmate with her children. Dan fights with the system, but is refused a fair chance in the unfair and unjust corrupt system. He didn’t get selected for the welfare and tries to apply for the jobseeker’s allowance. But the nonsensical rules do not allow him to get it easily and he applies for appeal. Dan waits and waits, but does not get an appeal date. In desperation, he resorts to writing his demands with spray paint on the outer walls of the office.
Coming to the life of Katie, she suffers much because of the petty allowance she receives. It is difficult to imagine how she would figure it out from the pit if Dan hasn’t been there. For many days she would eat an apple or skip dinner while her children would eat a full meal citing different excuses like eaten earlier or not hungry. But actually she has been doing it because there was not enough food for the family, which she had she wanted her children to be satisfied first and also she couldn’t afford any more on the food. Dan takes them to a food bank for some free food. Katie is helped by a woman to cater to her and the children’s needs. But after days of lying to her children, after days of lying to herself that she is not hungry; her will breaks down and she starts to eat a canned food then and there, unable to control her need, her hunger. She couldn’t stand the hunger for a moment longer, such is her condition. It’s a huge moment for the film, not just emotionally but also in terms of the plot; it is where I believe that’s Dan decides to take charge, to take matters into his own hand, to act.
Paul Laverty is a longtime collaborator of director Ken Loach starting from the Nicaraguan war drama Carla’s Song (1996) and they always showcase struggles of unique people in a broader way. For this film, he researched for extensive periods of time and many of the plot points are in fact taken from reality. Even the scene of Katie consuming food and her break down inside the food bank is a real event which took place somewhere in England. The story is filled with the anger of Dan or the people who are suffering like him in the real world. The words he wanted to say in his appeal are brutally correct, but it’s sad that it can only be heard in his funeral. The Bureaucracy crushed Daniel Blake, the Bureaucracy won against Daniel but we must ensure that we lose no more than one Daniel in the world.
Film Score: 92
Director: Ken Loach Screenplay: Paul Laverty Cinematography: Robbie Ryan Editing: Jonathan Morris Production Design: Fergus Clegg Music: George Fenton Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires