“Wonder Woman 1984” transports us to a simpler time of probable nuclear war, petroleum-fueled global conflicts and regrettable fashion. Does it also contain a Jewish clinging demon?
Hear us out, but first, be warned, there are some plot spoilers ahead.
In the follow-up to 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) reunites with her long-dead lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). How, you ask? Wasn’t Trevor last seen in 1918 flying an airplane loaded with poison up to the stratosphere and exploding himself? He was. But a magical MacGuffin and Diana’s loneliness made some quick work of that grisly fate.
How this all worked might give a folklorist pause. Steve’s spirit needed a living vessel to return in. That role fell to an unnamed dude with an unfortunate resemblance to Donald Trump, Jr. Steve just wakes up in the guy’s body one day after scattering his own remains over Europe 66 years before. While I watched Steve try on an array of fanny packs and master the art of riding an escalator, I, of course, had in mind dybukkim.
As comedian and amateur ghost expert John Mulaney recently explained on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” a dybbuk is a “dangerous spirit who can possess a human being and can terrorize the living.” This is essentially the gist of how dybbukim operate, minus some kabalistic context.
Does Steve Trevor qualify? On the surface, it would appear not. While he is dead and has possessed a human being, he’s not doing a whole lot of terrorizing, as he’s too preoccupied being amazed by modern trash cans and advances in aerospace technology. (Remember, he died at the tail end of World War I.) Steve also didn’t, as dybukkim are wont to, possess his hosr of his own volition after wandering as a lost soul with unfinished business.
But if one looks to the storied history of dybbukim on film, there are some parallels. The Yiddish classic “Der Dibuk” directed by Michał Waszyński tells a similar story of doomed love and sacrifice.
In the movie, based on S. Ansky’s play, a young kabbalist dies using dark magic to try and be with his beloved, who’s set to marry another. He comes back as a dybbuk and possesses his soulmate. It’s not quite the same arrangement as “Wonder Woman 1984,” but has a similar motivation in that Diana wishes for Steve’s return — and things go to hell as a result. (Sufficed it to say, both these dead dudes cause some accidental bodily harm to their lady friends.)
If there’s a lesson that should be learned in both stories, it’s if you love something, let it go. No one likes a partner who’s possessive, much less possessed.
Correction December 28, 202, 10:56 am: A previous version of this article stated that “The Dybbuk” was a silent film. It was a sound film.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.