The cinematography in Hale County This Morning, This Evening rivals some of the best fictional work of the year, allowing every sprig of Alabaman life to become one with the larger spheres. For instance, there is one moment when Ross superimposes a full moon on a little girl playing in a bubble bath, slowly dissolving to the night scene as if one of the bubbles had birthed a lunar wonder. Beauty does not skip over Hale County, he seems to say. It flows right through it, tasting of the remarkable and the yet-to-come. It is still a place of drifting hopes and uncompromising calamities. Thunder plays an interesting role in Ross’ snapshot, with kids rebelling against the static-laden air as the skies rumble ominously with impending rain. Dangers lurk just up ahead, and the people here are ready to meet it. They don’t seem to flinch, because they already endured enough. We are more liable to flinch. I’m sure anyone whose seen this will recall that intertitle, announcing a tragedy in the aftermath of a miracle. It is unsparing in its lack of forewarning—I felt as if I’d been smacked in the gut. Ross forgoes sentiment and exploitation, choosing instead to dwell on a butterfly and a shallow grave, while a mother’s grief lies outside the film. It’s a quiet insistence on what it means to carry on, filtered through the perspective of an insect world that does indeed live beyond us and without us.
The citizens of Hale County do live on, worshiping at church, perfecting their basketball skills, raising their children, and dreaming of better tomorrows. Connected to the world outside county lines by rains and skies, they are united together through an endurance that Ross takes his time to capture, letting certain sequences play out without cutting them down for size. A sports team can hang out in a locker room. A little girl can run around her living room like a future Olympic sprinter. These are things we may recall doing in our younger years, while our parents watched on just out of view. They are life’s adventures and modest pleasures, and Hale County is not short of them. People live on and grow, bearing life and seeing it leave. The seasons change around them. Ross tunes us to this world, and how little it differs from the fundamentals we know ourselves. Any little girl, from west to east, north to south, can see a bubble and thereby touch the moon. And that moon can eclipse the sun, in one moment of awesome unity that brings this great chain of being into focus.
Live on, Hale County. This morning. This evening. Forever.