Climax: (1) The point of greatest tension or emotional intensity in a plot. (2) A term used synonymously with crisis to refer to the turning point in the action when the protagonist’s lot will change decisively, whether for the better or the worse; in this second sense, climax, which follows the rising action and precedes the falling action in the plot of a story or drama, is a structural element, one of five associated with Freytag’s Pyramid, a model developed by nineteenth-century German writer Gustav Freytag for analyzing five-act plays (tragedies in particular). (3) As a rhetorical term, the last and most important in a series of items or terms ordered progressively based on their importance.
Some critics also apply the terms climax and crisis to minor peaks in the plot that change or intensify the course of the action. Most critics, however, limit the use of the term crisis to the plot’s ultimate turning point.
EXAMPLE: In Million Dollar Baby (2004), the instant paralysis suffered by female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald as a result of a cheap punch thrown after the bell has rung serves as the crisis, the pivotal moment when Maggie’s lot changes decisively for the worse, whereas her request that her trainer euthanize her to end her suffering serves as the climax, the point of greatest emotional intensity.