Cinematic Narative Elements
Sometimes in film certain detail is repeated and takes on special significance. Such repeated detail becomes a motif in the movie.
When two or more characters, events, locations, situations, or other elements are compared or contrasted in a film, it is called a parallel.
It is always important to take special notice of a films structure. There may be parallels in the opening and closing scenes. The film’s narrative usually have important turning points. A director may indicate such turning points in the form of transitions which may include, for instance, a fade-out, or a change in the music.
Allusions are “outside references” in a film that bring new meaning to the film.
Historical Setting & Cultural Attitudes The film may be placed within a specific historical setting or within a cultural attitude that causes the viewer to “read” the film in a special way. For instance, a story depicted during the Holocaust, e.g. Life is Beautiful (1997) , is read very differently from a film taking place on another planet, e.g. Avatar (2009). Both the historical setting and the cultural milieu in films supply the viewer with certain expectations and attitudes towards reading and understanding the film.
Stars as Reference
Stars (very famous actors) can also be a reference, often to certain genres. What type of movie comes to mind when Bruce Willis or Hugh Jackman is the leading actor? Most likely an action movie or suspense film. How about Hugh Grant? Probably a romantic-comedy. Jim Carrey? Comedy. And Johnny Depp? Probably a strange film with a quirky character.
Public Figures & Celebrities
When public figures or celebrities partake in a film they bring with them all kinds of associations. For instance, when Madonna acted in Evita (1996), many devotees of the real Evita Duarte de Peron of Argentina were outraged because Madonna’s reputation as the “Material Girl” contradicted with the virtuous ideas associate with Evita, the "spiritual leader" of Argentina.
Sometimes a movie may make references to other films or to other books or plays. This is known as an intertextual reference, and also contribute to the meaning of the film.
Summarized from Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005. Film: A Critical Introduction. Laurence King Publishing.