As Daniel Blake’s funeral drew to its close, and the film credits started to roll, there was silence all around us in the cinema. There was none of the usual post-film chatter. People were slow to leave and as they did they gathered up their possessions silently. What words were appropriate after gazing into this mirror held up to this too easily forgotten image of Britain today.
The one ray of hope in an all too stark landscape was the kindness of the food bank staff. But the queue outside the food bank was a reminder of how small and frail this one ray of hope was in a sea of misery. And the depth of the need being addressed was powerfully brought home by Katie taking a tin of baked beans from her “shopping” and immediately opening them and starting to secretly eat the contents – driven by raw hunger.
And how should one respond on leaving the cinema? Yes we will continue to support our local food bank but that seems a poor and inadequate response.
Walking back through the streets, passed the all too familiar figures huddled into doorways, there is an awareness that the silence after the feel was masking a quiet but very real anger.
Anger at the way food banks have become so quickly a normal part of society and that we feel no shame at the need for their existence. Anger at the way some exploit the poor and vulnerable as we watch Katie being drawn into prostitution. Anger looking for someone to blame.
Anger at the Job Centre staff and their petty rules, inaccessible forms, Kafkaesque systems and robot like approach. But in truth are they not as much victims of this approach to welfare given rules, targets, contracts that mean they have no alternative but to deny their humanity and not letting themselves be pulled to right or left knowing that if they do chaos beckons?
So anger then at their political masters who praise the value of austerity from the midst of their comfortable lives and seem to provide protection for some in the economy but not others and who themselves seem to pass unscathed from the consequences of the policies they watch over. And anger at Her majesty’s Opposition for failing to offer a more effective challenge and the vision of a real alternative.
Each of the above must in some way take responsibility for the plight of the poor and excluded in our land, as portrayed in the film I Daniel Blake, but I know in my heart of hearts it does not stop there. I know that the stilling of my soul at the end of the film was something more personal.
Whether or not Ken Loach has exaggerated or spun the truth portrayed, I recognise that the way I live my life, the circles I move in, all mean there are significant parts of life in present Britain that I avoid or choose not to see. For all my claim to social engagement and talk of justice and equality, I remain untouched by other people’s realities; too protected by my own comfortable life.
Ken Loach achieved something the Church often fails to do; he helped make the comfortable uncomfortable and in that is the beginning of the possibility of change.