Context in Film. Definition, Examples & How to Write It.


Definition: Context refers to the surrounding circumstances or background information that helps to understand and interpret a particular scene, character, or story. It includes elements such as period, social and cultural setting, and previous events that influence the narrative and meaning of the film.

Writing context in film is crucial for providing information to the audience and enhancing their understanding of the story.

Context refers to the background information, setting, and circumstances surrounding a film’s events.

Here are some common ways context can be revealed to the audience, along with examples from famous movies:


One of the most straightforward ways to provide context is through dialogue between characters.

This can involve characters discussing past events, explaining their motivations, or providing information about the world of the film.

For example, in the movie “Inception” (2010), dialogue explains the concept of entering dreams and the rules that govern it.


Visual cues can be powerful tools for establishing context.

Through props, costumes, and set design, filmmakers can convey information about the film’s period, location, and social milieu.

The opening scene of “The Great Gatsby” (2013) uses lavish visuals, opulent parties, and extravagant costumes to establish the context of the roaring 1920s.


Flashbacks are a popular narrative device that provides context by showing past events or memories.

They help the audience understand the characters’ motivations or reveal important information essential to the plot.

In the movie “Memento” (2000), flashbacks gradually reveal the context of the protagonist’s condition and the events leading up to it.

See also How to Write and Reveal Backstories that Work in Film.

Voiceover Narration and Breaking the 4th Wall

Breaking the 4th wall of the film’s diegesis (sometimes through voiceover narration) can provide context by giving insight into a character’s thoughts, feelings, or backstory.

This technique is commonly used in films like “Fight Club” (1999), where Edward Norton speaks directly to the audience and reveals the protagonist’s disillusionment with modern consumerist society and his alter ego’s philosophy.

Newsreels or archival footage

Incorporating newsreel or archival footage can effectively provide historical or cultural context to the audience.

In the movie “Selma” (2014), actual footage from the Civil Rights Movement is interspersed with the narrative, giving viewers a historical context and emphasizing the importance of the events depicted in the film.

Environmental cues

The environment in which the story takes place can also provide context. This includes elements such as weather, landscapes, and the general atmosphere of a location.

The opening sequence of “Apocalypse Now” (1979) uses the chaotic and war-torn setting of Vietnam to establish the context of the film.

See the best quotes from Apocalypse Now.

By utilizing these techniques, filmmakers can effectively provide context to the audience, enhancing their understanding and engagement with the story.

Summing Up

Context plays a vital role in shaping the narrative and enhancing the audience’s understanding and connection with the story.

It provides the backdrop for character development, plot progression, and thematic exploration, ultimately enriching the cinematic experience.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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