Recovery in Media: #1. Howl’s Moving Castle

Our culture often belittles or pokes fun at mental and emotional illness.  Jokes about bipolar, photo-shopped stick thin models, and little awareness of learning disabilities are examples of this.  Thus, media often feeds into my eating disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other disorders.

However, if you search for it, you will find movies, books, and music that are helpful to recovery.  I am going to try something new by posting on materials particularly helpful to me.  In the media I choose, there are messages of strength, true beauty, hope through dark times, and positive depictions of mental/emotional/behavioral disorders.

Be forewarned that you might not agree with all of my choices.  Very rarely is there a novel or show that I enjoy completely.  Little elements might upset, sadden, or bore me.  However I hope that you might also find some hope, encouragement, and wisdom from the different materials that I review.

Howl's Moving Castle

Recovery Movie #1

1. Howl’s Moving Castle

First introduced to this movie in a cartooning class, I loved it right away.  Although a bit strange and difficult to understand, the loveable characters and quirky storyline make this thoroughly enjoyable.  Every time you watch it, something new unfolds and you grasp more of the characters and plot.

Synopsis: Rather like a twist on Beauty and the Beast, this story opens with a timid mousey young woman, Sophie, who works in a hat shop.  By a strange turn of events, she ends meeting a handsome mysterious wizard and being cursed by the Witch of the Waste.  Not only does the nasty spell turn Sophie into an old woman, she is unable to tell anyone what happened.  Thus, she heads out to look for a way to break the curse.  Instead of encountering the Witch, however, Sophie stumbles upon the powerful yet supposedly heartless home of the wizard Howl and becomes his housekeeper.  Throughout the rest of the film, the shy girl gains numerous friends with her kind ways and grows into a plucky confident lass.

Recovery Pluses: Many animated heroines are beautiful, sweet, and nearly perfect.  Sophie is not.  Now I love Disney princesses and think they can be good role models.  However, Howl’s Moving Castle depicts Sophie in such a refreshing light.  We watch her grow from a frightened girl to a merciful strong brave woman.  There are times when she wants to give up but she continues on, helping not only herself but even her enemies.  Her persistence and love keep her young despite the curse.  Not only that, she comes to accept herself no matter if she is young, old, brunette, or silver-haired.  Sophie finds her identity and clings to that instead of her looks.

The attitude toward beauty is also intriguing in this film.  Characters that were beautiful become ugly while others that were not as attractive blossom to their full potential.  For example, Howl is extremely concerned about his looks.  At one point, he mopes, “What is point of life if I am not beautiful?”  Yet in the end, beauty is more about one’s heart than one’s looks.  Although not as apparently as Beauty and the Beast, this film emphasis that it’s what’s inside that counts.

Cautions:  Despite the positive portrayal of inner beauty, possibly triggering appearance comments are tossed around a bit, such as “fat,” “ugly,” and “tacky.”  For those struggling with PTSD or anxiety, there is a part in the beginning when two soldiers start to bother Sophie.  However she ends up fine.  Also, the magical setting during a war is not only fantastical; it is also frightening, dark, intense, and moderately violent at times.  If you are especially sensitive to violence or have young children, you might want to skip parts.  That being said, the film is PG and certainly never strays into PG-13 grounds.

 Overall, this is a gem of a film.  Sophie is one of my favorite movie heroine’s because of her courage, resilience, kindness, and hard-work ethic.  Seeing her grow helps me to have hope that I can blossom from a shy child into a strong woman.  There is a book that was written before the movie.  I read it and strangely enough, I like the film better.  However, the novel is worth checking out as well.  Howl’s Moving Castle might be a bit bizarre but it has plenty of great messages and fun for those in recovery, adolescent girls, or the whole family.

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