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Film / I, Daniel Blake

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I, Daniel Blake is a 2016 British Drama film directed by Ken Loach. It won the Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the Prix du public at the Locarno International Film Festival and Most Popular International Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

After suffering a major heart attack, former carpenter Daniel Blake seeks Employment and Support Allowance. However, while his doctors tell him that he must not return to work, the government's less accurate test states that he is fit for work and his only choice for benefits is Job Seekers Allowance, a benefit that requires he proves he's been looking for work. At the job center he meets Katie, a young woman with two children (Daisy and Dylan) facing a similar issue, and the two try to cut through the red tape.

The film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Dan's neighbour China is rarely seen without another quieter guy in his house, and they seem to be rather touchy-feely.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Daniel's vandalism of the benefits office is greeted with much enthusiasm by people nearby with two young guys even eager to get a picture with him.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Dan starts off bald but steadily grows whiskers as his living situation declines.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Ann, the only bureaucrat in the movie who actually cares about the people she's trying to help, is rendered ineffectual by inane rules that confound even her.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Daniel's heart condition eventually gives him a fatal heart attack.
  • Cool Old Guy: Dan is a charming, friendly guy who gets along great with younger people, particularly Katie's kids.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dan has a dry, caustic wit which he uses to cope with a harsh, uncaring world.
  • The Determinator: Dan compares himself to a dog with a bone. No matter how many roadblocks, setbacks and heartbreaks he faces, he never gives up. His sheer stubbornness proves to be both an asset and a hindrance at different points.
  • Disappeared Dad: Daisy and Dylan have separate fathers, both of whom ran out on them.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with Daniel suffering a fatal heart attack moments before he can finally get his benefits sorted, Katie remaining a prostitute, her children losing the closest they ever had to a father figure and the system that was at least partially responsible for his death is in no way held to account.
    • Arguably counts as a Bittersweet Ending as the sheer bleakness of the film's depiction of the welfare state actually caused many real political figures to take notice and implement reforms.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Nobody is perfect and nobody is horrible either, even the obstructive bureaucrats.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Daniel has never used a computer before, and a librarian has to explain to him how the mouse works. This is quickly Played for Drama once he's told that he has to apply online, making his application even more difficult.
  • I, Noun: The title, I, Daniel Blake, referring to the protagonist. More specifically it takes it's name from the scene where Dan vandalises the side of his local Jobcentre by spray painting an appeal letter on the side of it that starts with the words.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Dan and his neighbor China get along very well and China tells Dan if he ever needs anything, Dan only has to ask.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Downplayed. Katie and Daniel are not really jerks but they can be triggered and have caused a scene throughout several points of the film. They otherwise are still normal, good people.
  • Lack of Empathy: A central theme of the film is how the benefits system is run without any sense of humanity, coldly disregarding people for minor errors, valuing arbitrary rules of protocol above all else and treating flesh and blood people like numbers with no concern for how choices affect them.
  • New Media Are Evil: Averted, Daniel's main frustrations with modern technology stem from a simple lack of understanding, though he takes pride in being an old-fashioned pencil-and-paper person with common sense. However, the Jobcentre and associated parties' "all-digital" slogans only serve to alienate Dan further, best demonstrated by an unhelpful call handler insisting that he can only find a phone number for a dyslexic line on the internet even after being told that Dan has no access to the internet due to being dyslexic.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Katie asks for sanitary towels in the food bank and resorts to stealing them as they don't have any. Unfortunately, this is Truth in Television for many women who depend on food bank donations.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: No one who Daniel talks to is actually able help him in any real way, and that's if they care about his situation in the first place.
  • Oop North: Set and filmed in Newcastle in the North-East of England. Katie is originally from London but was forced to move as it was the only place she could get housing placement in.
  • Pet the Dog: Katie is caught shoplifting but the manager of the supermarket simply pays for her stuff and lets her go. It's one of the few moments of kindness anyone shows her.
  • Serious Business: Both Daniel and the people working at the Jobcentre have different ideas about how serious aspects of the application are. The majority of the workers don't treat Daniel's heart condition with any seriousness (they believe that as the DWP assessors have passed Daniel fit for work, he therefore is, and it doesn't matter what his own GP says), while Daniel looks like he's not taking the job search seriously when he hands in a handwritten CV. The only worker who does try to show compassion is reprimanded by her boss for doing so.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Daniel dies moments before he can finally sort out his benefits issue.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Katie eventually becomes one out of desperation, and still is as of the film's ending.
  • Too Desperate to Be Picky: Katie is so overwhelmed by hunger that when she gets a care package from her local foodbank she cracks a cold can of beans open and starts consuming them whilst still in the queue, much to her own embarrassment.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Katie, Daniel, and most people in this movie are normal, everyday good people. Everyone is at least a little sympathetic and understandable.