Whenever someone says that a movie, book, or play is anticlimactic it means that the story was progressing in the movie in a significant way. The plot was gripping, and the hope was that the ending would be memorable. You know, something that plasters you to the seat and won’t let you get up and rush to the men’s room right away, in spite of the fact that you’ve just downed an entire, large Diet Coke. When that happens you know that you’ve just witnessed a piece of screenwriting that is award-winning. Like the scene in Titanic when the body of Leonardo diCaprio slips from her grip and slides off into the icy, cold sea. The hero didn’t survive. You are devastated. That’s a climax you won’t forget.
But an anticlimax is just the opposite. The story is building, you sense that the end is coming, and you almost have a clue as to what is going to happen. Instead, the writer loses steam, and the story ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
Some people feel as if the conclusion of the movie Lincoln had an anticlimactic element to it by ending with the assassination of Lincoln. The storyline had been about the last three months of Lincoln’s presidency, and was brilliant. The man was captured by Daniel Day Lewis in a way that was transforming and revealing. We all know how the story ends, and could well have written the scene in our own minds. But the screenplay , which had captured us from the beginning chose to take that one extra step which was unnecessary. The death scene was overly- dramatic and anticlimactic. We all should have stood up and left the theater moments before, having experienced an intimacy with the person of Lincoln which needed no specific scene of his death. Some felt that it was an insult to the audience.
But the word anticlimactic is not restricted to the arts. A lecturer may leave a classroom with a feeling of incompletion or unsatisfaction. A point to be made is missing, or a point used is unsatisfactory after building to a place where a topic is becoming clear and capable of being integrated into one’s learning.
A sermon may be anticlimactic by stopping short of the point, or by going on beyond the point to a confusing ending.
An experience with another human being may fritter away without it culminating in a relationship or friendship.
A sales pitch may be anticlimactic by not including the “ask” or the “sale.”
Please note that the word anticlimactic is not the same as the word anticlimatic. The latter is a word which has to do with a state of the climate.
*American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Image Credit: Leigh Rubin