The real push and pull of this “Red Hook Summer”, however, belongs not to Flik and Chazz but to Flik and his grandfather. If Chazz, a believer, is content to let Flik figure out for himself whether he believes or not, Flik’s Grandfather is more forceful, withholding his grandson’s preferred vegan food and even screaming and shouting, waving around the Bible and hollering “It’s all in the good book!” And while Enoch is steadfast in this belief, “Red Hook Summer” is never simply assumes the Bible alone can move mountains. The movie is most alive when Enoch preaches, and when he preaches, he ties Scripture back to the social structure of the Red Hook neighborhood, and of the world itself. He wants his flock to be filled with the Holy Spirit, most assuredly, but he wants them to direct that fulfillment outwardly, to combat crime and gentrification. And even if his suspicions of technology can be misplaced, you have to admire the way he fights to get back his grandson’s precious iPad when it’s taken.
If Flik’s doubt is in God’s existence, the hoodlums, whose paths continually cross with Flik and Bishop Enoch, have doubts in the church itself, its function and intention. At first blush it seems this authenticity is on display in Deacon Zee, a broadly drawn character who might have faith but also has a drinking problem. In the end, Deacon Zee is just a red herring, and the spotlight gets shone down on Bishop Enoch instead, calling into question everything everyone thinks they know about him, and that includes us too. This is a movie, I imagine, that was and will forever be defined by the sudden turn it takes toward the end when Enoch, so consistently drawn as one thing, is suddenly revealed as something else. It is jarring. It is also alarming because it calls into question why Bishop Enoch’s daughter would allow her son to be in the presence of his grandfather for an entire summer based on this hidden truth. But that’s rooted more in traditional narrative concerns, and in his later years, Spike Lee has become less interested in traditional narrative concerns. If there’s a hole, there’s a hole, and who cares if you see it? Lee is more interested in how this sudden twist makes us feel.
This is a movie where God continually takes center stage, and as Bishop Enoch himself explains, “God loves all his people.” It’s a lovely sentiment, but Lee does not just want us to accept it at face value; he wants to challenge it; he wants that idea to be earned. He does not, by any means, let Bishop Enoch off the hook for his sins, but Lee also calls upon to offer empathy, and to remind us that offering empathy is not always supposed to be easy. So go ahead and watch “Red Hook Summer” and see if you can.