In From Paris With Love, the use of language plays an important role in relaying the story of Holly and Oliver's relational issues. From Holly's poem about Oliver needing translated from French to be understood, to Holly and Oliver's repeated failure to understand each other in basic English, language both alienated, but also eventually reconciled, their relationship.
First, a bit of a refresher:
Alienation: "...I'm Not Following..."
So terrible, in fact, that it's only after Holly's poem is translated back into English by a third party that Oliver comes to understand the poem is about him. Even then, Oliver sits deeply perplexed at the Mailbox Grille by the imagery of "death whisper[ing] to [Holly] in the wind," asking aloud, "What does that mean?" To be honest, I still don't know if he ever truly understood it. If Oliver failed to understand Holly's written words, which to him is the "gold standard of human interaction," then it was hard to expect anything more from their verbal exchanges later on.
As Holly appears on the scene, the communication issues are isolated to the English language, making their disconnect even more apparent.
Oliver and Holly discuss how she became a poet, yet she completely misses a moment of her own cleverness, and when Oliver brings up the letter, Holly immediately stalls by saying she's tired. Though Oliver never expresses his anger to Holly, he immediately divulges to Shane his sudden craving for the exact meal that indicates he's angry once Holly leaves. In this way their language barrier extends beyond words to actions as well. Take, for instance, Holly deferring to Oliver for all of two seconds about where to sit at the hotel for drinks that same evening. She seemingly wants Oliver to choose, but almost immediately takes control of the situation. Talk about mixed signals!
Reconciliation: The Road Home
As Holly relays the story of how her book of poems came to be published the following night, she shares a critical bit of information that gives her retreat to poetry meaning. Instead of using it to hide, she uses it to "get out of [her] head and back in[to] [her] heart." If Oliver were ever able to understand Holly, she identifies her poetry as the place he would be able to do it.
Remember, Oliver has read her poetry before---and struggled immensely to understand it, and, by extension, to understand Holly. The reason Oliver struggles is because of the unforgiveness he harbors towards her. We know this because of what happens next, after those now extraordinarily important words Holly speaks:
"I just wanted to say how sorry I am that it took me so long to come home. It's just that the longer I waited, the further away the road home seemed..."
Remember that Oliver wrote in his initial letter to Holly, "...if you regret your decision and simply don't remember the way home..."
We know how deeply Holly's words touch Oliver because when he completes her poem, Oliver immediately says, "Is this what you want?" He doesn't need an interpreter this time, nor does he ask of Holly a single question related to its contents. The meaning of Holly's poem is clear and immediately understood. What allowed Oliver to achieve this once seemingly impossible feat? Forgiveness.
As Shane so sagely predicted, Oliver's decision to forgive Holly in that moment enabled him to achieve the peace he was seeking. This allowed him to not only genuinely understand Holly's written and spoken words with both his mind and heart, but also enabled clarity to pursue the path forward, which ultimately found Oliver and Holly parting ways.
No question, a new scene has joined some of my favorite from this film!
Understanding Them Better,