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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, in I, Daniel Blake, respected indie director Ken Loach presents a pretty grim look at hardworking, responsible English people who get sick or lose their jobs and are then mistreated by a social welfare system that seems designed to make desperate people give up. Integrity and kindness are clearly valued, but younger viewers may not understand the subtleties involved -- for example, why a young mother might turn to sex work to support her children (no nudity or sexual activity is shown). While there's little violence, many scenes are upsetting, including a man having a heart attack, characters suffering due to hunger and poor living conditions, kids being teased, etc. Language is pretty salty and includes "f--k," "s--t," and "bastard."
What's the story?
After his heart attack, the doctor says that Dan (Dave Johns) -- the title character of I, DANIEL BLAKE -- can't work until his heart function improves. And as if having a heart attack wasn't nightmarish enough, when Dan goes for his "employment support assessment" to determine whether he can get British workman's compensation, he's deemed unworthy of support. Thus begins Dan's his entry into what the movie portrays as an unfeeling, dehumanizing social welfare bureaucracy. He can't work, and he's ineligible for support unless he appeals, a process that's complicated and self-contradictor. (He can't appeal until he gets a call from a "decision maker" announcing his ineligibility, followed by a letter confirming the same. But the letter came first! Sorry, no appeal.) During one visit to the welfare office, Dan stands up for a young, down-and-out mother, Katie (Hayley Squires), who's clearly being mistreated by the overworked, impatient social service workers. His protest gets them both escorted out, and a beautiful friendship begins.
Is it any good?
This is a powerful, beautiful, and depressing drama about dignity in the face of humiliation. It's also about humanity in the face of insensitive bureaucracy and about demanding respect and decent treatment for all, not just those who can pay for it. Writer-director Ken Loach is a keen, no-nonsense, socialist-leaning observer whose work reflects the pragmatic vision of someone who trained as a lawyer. As portrayed by him (and others), the British welfare system is a grim bureaucracy populated by stuffy, rule-ridden robots who are badly impersonating social workers.
The grimness never lets up. When Dan can take no more of the system's dark absurdity, he performs an attention-getting act of defiance that gets him hauled off by the police. In a less realistic, less gritty piece of social observation, Dan would have been praised by journalists and brought to the attention of outraged authorities bent on correcting a broken system. Wealthy benefactors would have lined up to rescue him. Nothing so predictable or sentimental happens here. In Loach's world, the occasional social worker with a heart is scolded by her supervisor because showing empathy and being helpful sets a bad precedent. In Loach's world, it's only the poorest of the poor who seem willing to share their last crumbs with fellow sufferers, while the state's system remains largely heartless. Good people who've worked hard and paid their dues all their lives end up victimized when they need help the most. I, Daniel Blake serves as a well-made work of social protest against a system that, as one observer puts it, is designed to make people give up. As Dan assures his starving, ashamed friend, "You are amazing, you've done nothing wrong."
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the film argue that society should treat hardworking people who suffer one bad break and spiral downward from there? Do you agree?
What is "realism" in movies? How "realistic" does this movie feel? Is it possible to capture absolute reality in a movie?
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