It’s interesting to think of how an ever-changing political climate can reinvigorate a creative mind. This is especially true of controversial British filmmaker Ken Loach: after a very difficult production of his post-World War I socio-political true story film Jimmy’s Hall, he’d decided to pack it in at 78 years old and after fifty years of making films. Then, the Tories regained control over the United Kingdom. Loach rose his head from a projected retirement and created a harsh look at the government’s ignorant stranglehold on the lower class citizens. I, Daniel Blake is a story of rules, regulation and bureaucratic red tape keeping the little man in his place. If Ken Loach’s goal was to raise your hackles with the mistreatment of their people in need, then mission accomplished.
The film is told through two characters who meet and become close friends. The first is the titular character, an aging carpenter who suffered a heart attack on the job and is waiting for clearance from his doctor to go back to work, and has social assistance barking at him to go back to work, cutting off his living wage. The other is Katie, a young mother who has just moved from the big city of London to the small town of Newcastle with her two kids. Having been cut off from her social assistance income by paperwork snafus, she and Daniel form a close bond as the two start to rely on each other in the harshest of times, trying to make the best of their situations.
The escalation of feelings in I, Daniel Blake is incredibly interesting. The film starts with Daniel doing a phone interview with the government agency put in place to give him his benefits and has him basically talking in circles, ramping up to a frustrating pitch. At first, this comes off as comical, something that’s so funny because it’s true and, for me, totally relatable coming from a low-income household. On the other hand, it is maddeningly tragic to see Katie break down in a local food bank, ravenously opening a tin of tomato sauce because she is starving to death. I make no lies here, I was openly weeping in theaters during this scene. We, in our society, know this all to well.
Once again, Ken Loach isn’t here to give you any hollow entertainment. I, Daniel Blake is a huge statement of how we, the people who work multiple menial jobs for low wages and stretch ourselves paycheck to paycheck are being continuously buried by an overseeing government who pulls the outstretched hand of help from us to slap us with the other hand. I feel I could so deeply relate to the frustrations of Loach’s characters and had an understanding of these people who could be my neighbors, co-workers or even family. What starts as a “Curb Your Enthusiasm ” style joke becomes fiercely real and even life threatening and I applaud Ken Loach for delivering it without a false step. This is one of the most important social movies of the year, if not this decade. An unforgettable film. 5/5