It is undoubtedly a strange thing to deliberately pay money for something that you know will upset you. Yet that is what we did tonight when we went to see I, Daniel Blake, the latest film from the prolific Ken Loach. The advance publicity left us in no doubt, this was a film that would leave us squirming uncomfortably about the United Kingdom that we are part of in 2016, yet we had to see it. The film is a shocking indictment of the callousness of our government, so by default we all need to share some of the blame. By voting in the current government, we have foolishly given them the belief that we want the poor, the sick, the disabled, the disenfranchised among us to be be bullied into submission with every shred of dignity taken away from them.
Of course I am not suggesting that we all voted for this course of action. Yet I can't help feeling that those of us, whose oppose the policies that the DWP, have failed to articulate our message clearly enough. The triumph of I, Daniel Blake is that it calmly shows us the terrifying spiral of decline which so many individuals have faced, without needing to exagerate or sensationalise. Each step into the abyss of the films protagonists has a stunning sense of macabre logic. The system is set up to make you fail, brilliantly setting hurdles that trip up even the most aware, yet alone those that have issues that may cloud their judgement and ability to rise to the challenge. Ultimately as the film points out, the states hold all the ace cards in the twisted casino that the DWP are running.
As with most Ken Loach films, the style of the film is straightforward and naturalistic. The language is simple and direct, the colour palate is drab, in keeping with the general mood of the film. That's not say that it doesn't have its moments of humour and heart warming comradeship. You could easily say that this is fundamentally a film about friendship. The two leads Dave Johns (Daniel Blake) and Hayley Squires (Katie) are thrown together as a result of a letter of the law type interpretation of procedure, which impacts one of them am and appals the other. As the film develops, we see how important they both are too each other, the mutual support being vital to the recipent and empowering for the provider.
This empowerment is crucial. As the state appears determined to remove every shred of dignity that they posses, their humanity in reaching out to help someone else, gives them something to hang on to. It's tough though, very tough and both of them suffer huge indignities through the likes of having to accept help from a food bank, selling their possessions and selling their very soul, as they try desperately to keep their head above water.
So why spend your hard earned money to watch a film as bleakly depressing as this? Well for me one of the reasons was the wish to see someone articulate the misery that so many in our country are being put through. Now let's be honest here, I have been very fortunate during my life and despite going to a pretty awful school and having virtually no qualifications, I've managed to lead a fairly charmed life so far. Yet this doesn't mean that the small minded cruelty that our government inflicts upon its most vulnerable hasn't crossed my path.
We've seen family members trapped in the spiralling maze that the DWP has thrown them into when they most needed some support. In my job, I used to occasionally talk to people who were in fear of losing an element of their benefits and the impact it would have upon their life. Sadly this is now something that now happens on multiple occasions everyday. Some are stoic, some resigned and others deeply scared that their life has been stripped of any sort of quality, the sense of fear in their voice is palpable and terrifying.
I've always thought that one of the functions of art was to show you that you aren't alone in the way that you think. Books, songs, films, painting and the like can leap out at you when you are at your most vulnerable and say "you are not so odd, other people do think and feel like you". I hope that some of the people, whose lives sadly replicate some of what this stirring film portrays so powerfully, get to see it. Maybe then they will realise that they are recognised as a person. Someone with something to offer to their fellow man. This is a film to show these people that they are not alone, people do understand that you are doing the very best that you can. If it can give people some sort of hope and sense of self respect then the film will be a triumph.
Of course it would also be wonderful if some of those in a position of power or influence, see the film and stop for second. Maybe then they will think about the person behind the statistic, the individual human story of that person and all those involved with that persons life. Maybe then they will think about what they can do to help those people rather than punish them. We've already seen government figures damming Ken Loach with faint praise "I'm a fan of his work" type quotes and then dismissing the film as being out of step with reality. Hopefully some of them are starting to have second thoughts as the ever increasing list of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and friends that have suffered through this insidious process of dehumanising the poor, is coming to light on a sadly increasing basis.
A friend of mind talks of the post-war consensus which saw Britain develop a health service and welfare system that made its population healthier. The collective will to help each other along was both profound and exhilarating. Have we really moved so far from these ideals that those in the most need are denied access to housing and basic financial support when needed.
Ken Loach brilliantly makes the point that we are all Daniel Blake, just a couple of steps away from a life changing moment. Despite the gloom, this is an inspirational film, humanity is what matters. It's a film that needs to be seen.