There have been a number of posts written lately, like this one here, about the crazy-childless-woman tropes that filmmakers love.
The main character in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is introduced in numerous reviews as “Widowed and childless, Daniel Blake…”, or “Solitary and childless, Daniel Blake…”.
So I was interested to see how this element would be handled – would Daniel’s childlessness be utilised to highlight his isolation and bitterness when he loses his job? But no: he remains a good-humoured, all-round likeable chap, engaging with his younger neighbours (who seem to genuinely respect him) and decompressing by woodcarving. Not a pitiable, lonely figure at all, in that regard.
Daniel is a 59-year-old man locked in a labyrinthine nightmare with the UK benefits system. Unable to work due to a heart condition, yet denied Disability Allowance, he is forced to apply for Jobseeker’s in order to feed himself. To qualify, he must continuously apply for jobs that he has to reject. To add a further Kafkaesque dimension, he has never used a PC and cannot access the appropriate digital forms, but when he tells this to benefits staff he is repeatedly referred online for help.
During one of his frustrating encounters at the job centre, Daniel meets Katy, a single mum of two who is slowly starving. A touching friendship forms. Katy provides the most unbearably moving scene in the film – it’s worth watching for this scene alone, which had the entire cinema sniffling.
The human connections that Daniel sustains with the people around him, and some extraordinary acting, redeem a film that could otherwise have been grim and overloaded with polemic.
Back to the childless thing, then. In I, Daniel Blake, it is mentioned briefly, in one scene. Katy’s little daughter asks him “Do you have children?” and Daniel, says “I’d have loved that“. They look at photos of his dead wife and he mentions that she had erratic moods. Was she mentally ill, perhaps, and this is why they never had children? We don’t know.
We do know, though, that Daniel is a warm, humorous, ordinary, fatherly man, entirely at ease with Katy and her children and exhibiting no signs of mental instability, bitterness or thwarted longing. His childlessness is ‘used’ in a constructive way, as a narrative opportunity to facilitate his friendship with Katy and her children, and his neighbours.
Good things come of it, for a while. Character-wise, it’s a positive depiction of a childless protagonist, and he happens to be male.
I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this, as this film is obviously so very different from The Girl On The Train, Fatal Attraction et al. Maybe there’s no conclusion to be drawn?
Maybe it’s just nice to see an older, childless character, of any gender, find moral support in his community rather than rely on blood relatives to provide it?
It’s also thought-provoking to see that the mother of two is just as threatened by severe social isolation and loneliness as the childless widower of 60 (if not more): we are not so much different, all of us, when it comes down to it.