I, Daniel Blake ★★½

2017 Ranked
Palme d'Or Winners Ranked

It should probably go unsaid, but treating people with respect, even when frustrated or certain of one’s convictions, should be paramount. If this doesn’t occur, than the distance felt between people grows further and eventually an abyss is formed. Yet from the first moments of I, Daniel Blake, we hear a noticeably frustrated and rude Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) conversing with a social worker who is unable to recognize that he is unfit for work because of a recently suffered heart attack. His arms and legs work, and therefore he must be able to work. Or at least this is what the work capability assessment deems.

The scene sets off a series of events as Daniel struggles to make an appeal given the appeal process requires the filling out of forms online and Daniel has never used a computer before. Daniel’s wheels continue to spin as he goes, time and time again, to the Jobcentre and is referred to different people, seminars, and locations due to the slowness and ineptitude of the bureaucratic process. A process that isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but is designed to be followed to a T as if it could effectively service any issue that may arise (it can't). To be sure, Ken Loach doesn’t depict all social workers as bad, though through I, Daniel Blake, it seems that Loach places the onus of responsibility for failure of the system on them rather than policymakers despite the age-old aphorism ‘don’t kill the messenger’.

In his struggles, Daniel bonds with a single mother of two, Katie (Hayley Squires), who also faces difficulties at the Jobcentre. Through his friendship with Katie, we see a caring and gentleness to Daniel that is cherished. Why should a man capable of this much love undergo this much hardship? And why can’t Daniel’s appeal process be simpler?

Loach points out a number of problems in I, Daniel Blake, but not in a constructive manner. He calls for care and empathy, but doesn’t have anything useful to say regarding the bureaucracy other than pointing fingers at overt flaws. I wholeheartedly agree that there is a strong need for better care and services to integrate those who feel disenfranchised or separate from, voluntarily or involuntary, through aging or other reasons, modern life, and we see this plenty in the United States regarding challenges in reintegrating veterans into life at home and our noticeable deficit of affordable and compassionate resources available to the elderly and mentally ill.

So, I am sympathetic to Loach’s message in I, Daniel Blake. As one entering the workforce for the first time, I know inefficiency, frustrations, and seemingly unsurpassable learning curves exist. I’ve got ~20 jobs applied for at this point, applications sent into the placelessness of the internet, and not much to show other than a handful of rejections. But despite my sympathies to Loach’s message I, Daniel Blake didn’t sit entirely well with me even though I was strongly moved by a number of scenes, particularly those in the last half hour.