I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Written by Paul Laverty
Directed by Ken Loach
Western civilization is nearing its end. Now it could be around for another 100 years or more. I don’t think we’ll see any Roland Emmrich-style explosive finale or Mad Max-ian wastelands ruled by marauders. It’s a sad, pathetic decline where the poor and working people will just be stepped on harder and harder. Cruelty will be further normalized, and society will be conditioned to accept less than crumbs as acceptable. Anyone speaking out who might bring out even a modicum of change will be pilloried and labeled a “hater,” a “traitor,” etc. And you’ll still be expected to keep going to work and paying bills during this collapse. They won’t let a day go by that you aren’t being squeezed like a sponge for all possible labor at the lowest possible wages. The slavery model in American prisons has been quite lucrative.
Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is an elderly craftsman from Newcastle who has a heart attack. His doctor advises that Daniel stay home until he gets a clean bill of health. The bureaucracy of the U.K.’s Work Capability Assessment program deems Daniel healthy enough to return. If he doesn’t return to work, he will be denied his supplemental allowance from the state, money he depends on to live. He decides to appeal but learns it’s done entirely online, and computers aren’t relevant in Daniel’s life until now. While arguing with employees at the job center,
Daniel meets Katie (Hayley Squires). She’s a single mom who has come to Newcastle as there is no affordable housing in London for her family. Because she’s late for her appointment, she is punished with sanctions to her benefits. The two form a bond; it helps Daniel feel useful repairing things around Katie’s shabby but loving home. Since his wife died, he has had little connection with the outside world besides his job, which he can’t do now. Daniel and Katie’s story plays out not just in the U.K. but in every corner of the Western world, with “well-meaning” bureaucracies crushing the most vulnerable people who simply want the basic comforts of life.
Ken Loach is a British filmmaker I’ve known for around 20 years but never sought out any of his work. I am delighted I watched this one and certainly want to see more. It won’t come as a surprise to know Loach is a far-Left steadfast Labor supporter. When speaking out during the release of I, Daniel Blake, Loach spoke of how the U.K. benefits system is intentionally designed to keep people from ever getting the benefits they have earned. It called it “Kafkaesque” and “designed to frustrate and humiliate the claimant to such an extent that they drop out of the system and stop pursuing their right to ask for support if necessary.”
I think Loach is right in the call to action that I, Daniel Blake represents. However, I think he falls into the camp of people who showcase the best example to argue for those who deserve benefits. Daniel is ultimately not the most realistic character or the best way to present why benefits are necessary. This is the same problem in how Black people are often presented in this sort of filmmaking. It’s almost always a very studious, polite, and intelligent person beyond the norm Black character who is made the protagonist, so the white villains are shamed because of what a good person this is. So the message ends up really being that exemplary Black people are deserving of respect. In the case of this film, it’s outstanding poor people that are deserving of benefits.
I have a radical idea, and it is revolutionary in relation to these representations in the media. Everyone deserves a home, food, clothing, education, health care, etc. It doesn’t matter if they are a “nice” person. It doesn’t matter if they are sober or not. It doesn’t matter if they have a job or not. People deserve these things because no one has ever been asked if they want to be born into this world. We are all born involuntarily into the world; therefore, we deserve everything a human needs to survive. If people behave shittily, even if they don’t hold the same beliefs that I do, they still deserve all these basic amenities. And they deserve some comforts & luxuries too. Everyone deserves to have a treat sometime or to feel content. The Deserving [your marginalized group here] plays into the endless means testing bullshit that creates the broken system seen in the film in the first place. We must “prove” a person deserves the ability to sustain their life, so if that is the case, the poor will always end up in a series of social tests that result in humiliation. There is no dignity in this type of welfare state. The only thing I can say about it is that it’s undoubtedly something compared to the United States’ outright refusal to support its citizens.
There are places not like this, but they aren’t anywhere I’ve ever lived. Even worse, those who benefit from the current system at the top will do everything they can to undermine efforts worldwide to pursue a different path. See John Bolton’s on-air admission on CNN that he took part in planning coups in foreign countries for the U.S. government. Also, see The Jakarta Method, a book that beautifully captures the horror of U.S. atrocities in any country that didn’t bow to their imperial power. Maybe one day, a place like the United States will give its people what they need to simply live. I won’t hold my breath. These are dark times, this age of capitalist realism, of neoliberal dominance. But maybe it’s time for the Western world to end and for something new to come to power.