The Big Lonely – Movie Review – Dances with Films 2015

Geek Lab Review
  • Overall


Insightful thoughts and stories from a man who left the real world.


The Big Lonely follows the life of Michael Nelms and his dog, Tic. Michael is a homeless man who, rather than live under a bridge or in a big city alley, live in a self-built cabin 60 miles into an Oregon forest.

The movie not only documents Michael’s life for about nine months and through a brutal winter but also serves as his personal diary. The entire movie was shot and recorded by Michael without the supervision of any third person. The only subjects in The Big Lonely are Michael, dog Tic and you the viewer.

Dances With Films Entrant
David Manougian
Director: David Manougian
Cast/Subject: Michael Nelms

The movie tells two parallel stories. The first story is one of survival. Every day, Michael has to find food, get drinking water from a well and cope with loneliness. The movie starts with the coming of a particularly harsh winter. When the weather gets cold, Michael must stay warm and decide if he is going to brave the elements to get much-needed water and food. As the temperature drops to sub-zero degrees, food and water become more and more scarce. At one point, Michael must make a 60-mile trek in the dead of winter to a nearby town to find small odd jobs and buy enough food for another year. This is a trip he does not want to make. First, because of the cold winter’s snow and second, the nearby town does not want him on its streets.

The second story is Michael himself. For a man living in isolation, he is a fascinating man. Before becoming homeless, Michael Nelms was a business man and a realtor. After his divorce, the state went after him for child support. After receiving a letter that he had fulfilled his support obligation, the state went after him again for more money. Ignoring the first letter, the state took away his driver’s license and Michael is now unable to work and find any employment.

Now living in the Oregon woods, Michael is reflective about his past and the events that lead to his current situation. He can enjoy and embrace the beauty of his natural surroundings to the point of being amazingly philosophical and poetic with his words. Looking at the amazing green forest landscape, Michael calls it “Poverty with a view.” Then there’s his future, Michael lives in an annual cycle of survival. His sole purpose in life is to make it to the next day and through the next winter. He fights with himself in hopes of not crossing the line into hopelessness. He is unable to see a future where his situation gets better.

Writer/Director David Manougian does a magnificent job piecing together hundreds of hours of Michael’s video diary. He paints a story that makes you feel Michael’s struggle in the coldest winter. You are engaged with Michael’s story and fall in love with the beauty of the American outdoors. You will be touched and challenged with The Big Lonely.

For more information about The Big Lonely and future screenings, visit

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