The Journey of a Lifetime

Le Gran Voyage, literally meaning “the big trip” was much more than just that. It was a teaching and learning opportunity for the characters in the movie as well as the audience. Yahya Laayouni from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania composed an article, From Marseille to Mecca: Reconciling the Secular and the Religious in Le Gran Voyage (The Big Trip) (2004), about the movie and pieces apart many scenes and lessons in the film. Before and after reading the article, the audience is left with a few questions such as “Why did he write this?” and “What is he going to examine?” Laayouni states, “I argue that personal experiences are not isolated reflections of the self and that each individual experience carried within itself traces of other ‘selves’ whose recognition is quintessential to selfhood.” Laayouni is describing moments in the film when different experiences between Réda and his father before, during, and after their journey to Mecca. They had the same journey, but it was experienced differently. This is one of the many clear arguments that Laayouni made in the article. Another very clear remark that Laayouni made was much later in the article, but just as important. “My contention is this paper is that Beur identity formation is a site of struggle where the Beurs are constantly negotiating their position as individuals with respect to two paradoxical cultural experiences.” Identity is not just natural, there are parts that are natural, but it is not fully formed until different experiences are had to form a unique personal identity. Laayouni reveals many insightful topics in the article such as generation gaps, differences in socialization, background, and when the Religious meets the Secular.


A generation gap is, by definition, a lack of communication between one generation and another,especially between young people and their parents, brought about by differences of tastes, values, outlook, etc. Laayouni breaks down the generation gap in the movie between immigrant parents, specifically Maghrebi immigrant parents, and their children. The Maghrebi parents obviously is referring to the father, and the children is referring to Réda. Laayouni tells on page 2, “Both the parents and their children were socialized differently: while the parents are very connected to their culture of origin, their children are much less so and are unable to negate the impact of their social upbringing in France”. In this observation, Laayouni also describes how the trip was the last chance for the father to immerse Réda in his cultural and religious heritage. The biggest aspect that formed a gap in the generations of the two was religion and modern things such as the fact that Réda had a cellphone, in which his father did not understand. Throughout the trip, the two were able to put aside their differences and try to see eye to eye even if just for a moment. By sharing a car, food, and a hotel room brought them the opportunity to think about the differences that they had. The large generation gap brought up the topic of socialization and how not only do they have a gap because of age, but because of modern socialization.


Socialization has changed dramatically from today and in the past, for example, when Réda’s father was being raised. Today, socialization is all about technology via texting, facebook, snapchat, twitter, whatever it may be. That is how Réda was different from his father. There is a scene in the film where Réda is talking to his girlfriend, who is a non-muslim woman, on a cellphone and his father does not understand any of it. This shows many differences between them, the biggest being that Réda is dating a non-muslim girl, which is something that would never happen in his father’s generation purely because of their religion and what they believe in. Laayouni speaks of some more background about differences in being raised in the section Background: Children of Maghrebi Parents in France.

The section Background: Children of Maghrebi Parents in France is sort of a sidestep from the main topic and instead offers the readers a lot of information. Some information that Laayouni teaches the readers is about the Beur generation. “The Beur generation refers to French citizens who are born or raised in France and whose parents are of Maghrebi origins…The term ‘Beur’ is the result of a syllabic inversion of the word “Arab”. This generation was introduced in the early 1980’s and started with children of Maghrebi parents who were born and/or raised in France. There are many more valuable facts that Laayouni speaks about in this section. But, the most important thing that Laayouni talks about is when the Religious meets the Secular.

On the bottom of page 11, Laayouni discusses when the Religious meets the Secular.  He states, “Though he is not a practicing Muslim, religion is a cultural experience that Réda shares, and it constitutes a central part of his identity construction”. He also speaks how Réda has a Muslim authoritarian father on page 12. He confirmed this position in the beginning of their trip when he threw out Réda’s phone because he didn’t want him to be distracted on the journey, as mentioned before. He also wants him to remember his religion and where he came from, but most importantly, his “Frenchness”. One more point that Laayouni makes in this section is about language. Language is an important part of culture and religion. On page 13, it is described that Réda and his father speak different languages and that kind of sets them apart from one another. Réda speaks french, from his mother, and his father speaks Moroccan Arabic which is the language of the Quran. Each of the languages is a symbol for their differences and represents each other.

On the contrary, there were some points made in the article that differ from popular belief. For example, there is a comment that says, “Réda, forced to go on the trip, does not understand the importance of the Hajj until the end.” (Laayouni, pg. 2) Although the point about not understanding the importance of the Hajj is true, the comment about Réda being forced to go on the trip is not. His father really wanted him to go with on the trip to submerge him in culture and his heritage so he doesn’t forget who he truly is despite the modern world taking over his life. The trip was a journey for the both of them mentally and physically, but he was not forced to go on the trip. If he had said no to his father, it would probably have caused major conflict, but he could have said no if he wanted to. It was a good decision for him to go because he really did learn about himself and what his heritage really is all about.

There was another remark Laayouni made on that states, “Most naturalized Maghrebi immigrants still think of themselves as strangers because they have been enculturated in their home countries before moving to the Hexagone (France)” (Laayouni, pg. 7)For this comment, the knowledge on the disagreement on the statement comes from an article by Jhumpa Lahiri called My Two Lives. Jhumpa described her life as an “Indian-American” and how, “Like many immigrant offspring I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen.”  The comment about her having to be loyal combination of both cultures both coincides and contradicts Laayouni’s statement.  It agrees with not feeling like fitting in, but differs because Lahiri mentions how she adapts to the American society. She talks in depth about how the adaptation was hard because of her parents. “My parents had little knowledge or control of: school, books, music, television, things that seeped in and became a fundamental aspect of who I am.” Réda relates to this statement very much because he was a modern person with cell phones and girlfriends and his father simply did not understand.

“Growing up, the family home is the only place that connects Réda to his parents’ origin; outside home, he is French with all that the word entails.” This is another statement made by Laayouni that can be argued against. Lahiri, in her article,  talks a great deal about tradition and how there is a correlation between tradition and a safe place, which could mean her home or her home country. She says how at home, they followed many traditions and customs that come with being “Indian-American” such as what and how they ate, songs, and even clothing. Outside of her home, she acknowledged how, yes, there were many barriers such as language that made things like work, school, going to the store, etc. very difficult. Réda probably experienced some of these difficulties sometimes, but not really because he was still submerged in the culture even though is was more modernized than his father had hoped for.

Overall, the article had more agreeable points than not and Laayouni’s points were very educational and well thought out. Réda was an individual who had to go through hard times to eventually reveal to himself his true colors. Lahiri made a great final comment on page 2 of her article that stated, “The immigrant’s journey, no matter how ultimately rewarding, is founded on departure and deprivation, but it secures for the subsequent generation a sense of arrival and advantage.” It is ironic how she spoke of a journey, being that Le Gran Voyage was all about a journey. She has a great point, though, about how struggles and hardship have to happen in order to be rewarded in the end, just like Réda had to face a lot of affliction in the film, but was ultimately rewarded.