1917: Director Mendes’ Grandfather Influenced the War Movie

Sam Mendes’ 1917 isn’t based on a true story. The film’s tale had never happened, but it  was actually inspired by very real events.

The idea of making the movie was largely inspired by Mendes’ own grandfather Alfred, who was a soldier during the great war and who once had a mission that was similar to the one in the movie.

World War I ended a century ago, but director Sam Mendes learned a great deal about the conflict from his grandfather who fought in the war.

Mendes’ goal was to direct a movie that made war feel real, a feature that would be worthy of his grandfather. According to the director, the events of the war caused lasting changes in his grandfather that continued well into his old age. Mendes says of his grandfather…

He was an immensely confident guy. He didn’t look troubled. But he had a few quirks, one of which was that he used to wash his hands all the time. Mendes father explained the reason: “It’s because he remembers how it was in the trenches, in the mud. He could never get the mud off his hands.’

Mendes’ grandfather told a story about the need to deliver a message between various posts at dusk. This task required him to move through no man’s land, the space between the trenches of the two opposing sides, which meant likely death if the other side spotted you. When it came time to write his war movie, Mendes used this idea as the launching point for his own story.

The two soldiers get their orders, and try to reach a far off location to stop a massacre. It does certainly fulfill Sam Mendes’ main requirement of trying to create an accurate representation of war. The film’s much talked about style choice, to film and edit in such a way as to give the movie a feeling of “one shot” makes things feel about as real as cinema might allow. Everything takes place in real time, more or less, and we never leave our characters. We experience the entire movie exactly the way we would if we were in the shoes of the characters.