“I, Daniel Blake” is a bleak look at the state of today’s society, specifically the way that the unemployed are treated when they’re attempting to get back on their feet. It explores the procedures that are in place when it comes to applying for benefits and how these procedures can act as a stumbling block for many of those who aren’t comfortable with modern technology, and it questions the way that we perceive people who are struggling to find work. It does this not only through Blake (played by Dave Johns), a widower who has been deemed unfit to work by his doctor after suffering a heart attack on the job, but also through Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother of two who is struggling to adapt to life in a new city.
Katie’s role in the film is to make Daniel seem more sympathetic to the audience, because although he’s likeable he could come across as the architect of his own downfall without another perspective on the situation. Unlike the titular character Katie understands what she needs to do to get access to her benefits and she doesn’t have any physical handicaps holding her back. However, with two young children, no references, and no support system, she doesn’t have a clear path to gainful employment. She can’t take jobs that require her to work after 3pm because she has to pick up the kids and look after them, her experience is limited, and as a result no one will take her on. None of this is her own fault, so as an audience member you can’t help but relate to her and hope that she gets her happy ending.
Daniel’s problems are easily explained away by a viewer like myself who is well accustomed to the way that the world works today – he can’t use a computer, he’s unwilling to accept the status quo, and he won’t adapt to the system so that he can exploit it, so of course it works against him.
However, Katie isn’t just facing a world that she doesn’t understand; she understands it and yet she’s a victim of it all the same. Life has actively worked against her and her children, and even though she’s willing to do anything to dig her way out she ends up having the dirt shovelled back on top of her as the hole gets deeper. That’s how life works when things aren’t going your way, and the scariest part about this film is that with a couple of bad decisions anyone could end up in Katie’s situation.
Still, the most damning aspect of “I, Daniel Blake” is that Daniel physically can’t change his situation. He’s been told by his doctor that he can’t go back to work, and yet this isn’t a good enough excuse for the government to provide him with the money that he’s entitled to. The very thing that keeps him alive is faulty and could cease to beat if he goes back to work, yet it’s down to an impartial decision maker that’s never met him to decide whether or not he qualifies for support! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that there’s something fundamentally wrong with that system.
In a sense the system isn’t set up to help anyone – it’s set up to stop frauds exploiting the government and only really benefits those who know exactly what they need to say when they’re being assessed. Everyone else is subject to humiliation and degradation in the name of survival, and they’re made to feel as though they’re in the wrong for requiring a helping hand.
The fact that there are countless people out there like Daniel who are desperate enough to rely on a system that’s set out to block them is both harrowing and devastating, and it’s something that from my idealistic perspective I find difficult to comprehend. It makes me wonder why we bother getting up every day if we’re going to have to battle a world that’s designed to knock us back, particularly when we’re the ones who set it up to be this way in the first place.
This is encapsulated by the movie’s finale; a defiant yet ugly ending which perfectly fit what preceded it. The way that the movie built to this point in the twenty-or-so minutes prior was slightly disappointing, as things petered out strangely due to inconsistent pacing, but that didn’t make the final act any less impactful. It didn’t pull any punches and I was glad that the film’s themes were consistent throughout the entire runtime, as an ending which was too hopeful would’ve rendered the whole thing pointless.
If I had to express one major criticism regarding “I, Daniel Blake” it would be that it could’ve used another perspective other than those of Daniel and Katie. The movie has a clear voice, and that voice is one of disgust aimed at the establishment, but it would’ve been more balanced had it included at least one character who was abusing the benefits system for their own end. This wouldn’t have made Daniel any less relatable or hurt the film’s narrative, but it would’ve added another layer to what was an already intelligent story.
So, overall “I, Daniel Blake” was a sincere and honest depiction of society in Britain today. As someone who has struggled on the employment ladder, (or perhaps more accurately ‘is struggling’), I could relate to Daniel’s problems, but on the other side of that coin I could understand why he had to jump through hoops to get the state welfare he was entitled to. This understanding didn’t do anything to quell the outrage that I felt once the end credits rolled, but it did make me question whether or not a comprehensive solution is possible.
“I, Daniel Blake” gives a face to issues that people face on a daily basis, and in doing so it humanises a category of people who are too often labelled as unwanted and useless. It does this whilst also being funny, smart, and most importantly entertaining; so in my view it’s more than worth your time.