Canadian indie band Stars once sang that when there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire. I can think of no better way to convey the shocking final 15 minutes of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
When you watch the film, you'll marvel at how fresh it feels. Following a credits sequence that hits you in the face with "angry-dancing", we're introduced to the social world of a Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Then, as now, the outstanding existential threat is gentrification.
Spike Lee chooses to face character complications head-on, and no one's free of scrutiny. Giancarlo Esposito's "Buggin' Out" , the film's would-be Malcolm X, swings easily from overblown concern at the lack of black faces on the wall of Sal's Pizzeria to inviting universal ridicule when a cyclist scuffs his Air Jordans. Lee's camera treats his affectations unkindly, the upward zoom adding extra heft to his already comical hairstyle. Even so, much like Falstaff, this thoughtless dilettante sets the film's tragedies in motion.
Sal, our pizzeria owner, professes love for the people of Bed-Stuy, citing his pride that the young adults in the neighborhood grew up on his pizza. Nonetheless, he does not hesitate to call them "animals" and "niggers" when the mood takes him. And yet, there's little doubt that he loves the people he serves, even as a deep-seated disrespect for them wins out over his seemingly better nature.
Disrespect really is the order of the day here: whether you're Mookie, Tina, Radio Raheem, Sal, or even Sal's useless sons, how you deal with disrespect defines your character (at least up to a point). Mookie does nothing for so long that his big act almost feels like a triumph. Raheem hides behind his music, and when that's disrespected, he explodes. Sal's deep-seated racism comes to the fore. He's not an anti-social racist like his son, but guilty of ugly prejudice none the less.
The exception is the Greek chorus. They constantly comment but never act. They are less characters than narrators, involved less with the specific lives of the neighborhood than in defining the shapes of the setting. Lee treats them to some of the most beautiful videography in film history as they lounge under umbrellas against a wall painted the brightest red ever seen outside a Tarantino film.
I don't want to linger on the ending; if you haven't seen the movie, you need to experience it for yourself. I will say this, however: la plus ça change, la plus la même chose.