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Headscratchers: Howl's Moving Castle
Headscratchers for Howl's Moving Castle (both the book and the film), so spoilers should be spoilertagged for those who have seen one but not the other. However, fair warning also applies, so Beware Potential Spoilers.

  • In both the book and the movie, there's a scene in which Sophie pretends to be Howl's elderly mother in order to help him get out of serving in the war. She's supposed to be around 90. In the book, Howl is 28. If Sophie really WERE Howl's mother, she would've been in her 60s when she had him. That's a bit too old to be plausible—considering everyone else seems to have Agedar, doesn't it seem odd to anyone?
    • The subtext, in the movie at least, is that Madam Sullivan knows that Sophie isn't really Howl's mother and is only playing along for politeness' sake. Everyone else probably assumes that either age has not been kind to Mrs. Pendragon, or Howl cast some sort of spell on her that backfired.
      • The act doesn't really do that well in the book, either. But it was a desperate plan, and everybody knows those are always quite plausible, right?
    • It's also possible that everyone assumed Howl, vain as he is, was magically reversing the effects of age on his body and really much older than he appeared. Of course, Madam Sullivan knows because she taught him, but everyone else...
    • The movie also shows the extent of Sophie's advanced age varying along with her state of mind. She's shriveled and bent nearly double when the spell is first placed on her, but by the time she goes to meet Madame Suliman, she's standing quite straight and her face is still elderly but considerably less exaggerated, enough that she could probably pass for closer to fifty-something than ninety.
    • In the book, Howl knew Sophie was cursed the whole time. The real reason he sent Sophie to see Mrs. Pentstemmon was to see if she could break the curse, so it didn't matter whether it was plausible. Howl knew Mrs. Pentstemmon would be able to tell Sophie was under a spell straight away.

  • When did Howl fall in love with Sophie? The book is in Sophie's POV—but it just seemed so sudden.
    • Howl fell in love with Sophie when he met her on May Day, back before she was cursed. He was courting Lettie to find out more about Sophie.

  • In the film, did Sophie's curse ever get broken? The witch said Turniphead's curse could only be broken by true love, but nothing about Sophie's cure, and throughout the film they'd been using varying ages for Sophie (all with grey hair) based on how Hot-Blooded she is at any given time ("You're only as old as you feel" was my original, and current, interpretation). At the end, she's with Howl, but since the audience has seen her throughout the film young and with grey hair, there's no indication that the curse is broken.
    • While this troper is likewise uncertain as to whether or not the curse actually broke, she was under the impression that it simply didn't matter anymore. The curse made her age according to how she felt (when she felt insecure she turned old and when she felt more confident, she became her own age). When she saves Howl at the end of the film and compliments her hair, the fact that she didn't blush and deny it (like she did the last time he said she was pretty), but instead happily agreed was an indicator that she was no longer suffering from self-esteem issues like she used to. Thus, she wouldn't age anyway, whether or not she was still cursed.
    • At the end of the film she's clearly young again, just with grey/silver hair.
      • The Fridge Logic here is, what's your evidence that this was any different than the times earlier in the movie when she was young again, just with grey/silver hair? Audience perception showed us what was (possibly incorrectly) assumed to be a metaphor earlier, where is the evidence that the curse was broken, since she still had grey hair?
      • This troper believes that the spell was never broken in the traditional fashion - rather, Sophie is (unknowingly) a witch, and when she's upset/in love/ confident in herself, her magic is strong enough to throw the spell off. The silver hair is a remnant of the unbroken spell.
    • The Power of Love.
      • Not "how did...?", just "did...?"
    • I noticed that at a certain point (specifically when the hat shop gets bombed) she's done in young style and stays that way for the rest of the movie. I assumed the curse was more or less broken then, the hair color was just a byproduct, possibly even to change back to normal in due time.
      • Rewatching the film, the scene after she leaves the portal in the past, when she tells Heen she can't stop crying, you notice that some of her "tears" floating around her are black/purple and opaque, rather than water. I now think that's the moment the curse actually "broke" — possibly because, the moment she figured out how to break Calcifer and Howl's curse, her own curse broke, even though Calcifer was not aware of it.
  • Going from the above IJBM, if Sophie's "only as old as she feels", then how is she supposed to grow older? She wouldn't become an old woman anymore as she has more self-confidence, and if she doesn't become an old woman then she might not age at all.
    • If it is the case that the spell works that way, and it wasn't just a metaphor, then yes, Sophie is potentially immortal by way of not aging. She would likely age along with Howl, though, since we see with Howl and the Witch of the Waste that a demonic contract does not prevent aging, just death by old age (and, in the movie continuity, senility).
    • They might be drawing that one from the book - Sophie's partially wished to stay old because she thought that suited her better. So it might be that in the film, the curse sort of unravels itself once she's confident enough.
  • Why does Howl have a door to his past anyway?
  • So if this is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of England, why is ther a recruitment poster in German?
    • I'm not certain that Film!Ingary is an FCC of England - I read somewhere that the style of architecture was based on towns in the Alsace region, on the border between France and Germany, sooo... Translation Convention?
  • What is Suliman actually trying to do to Howl in that weird sequence with the singing stick people in the sky?
    • This Troper always interpreted that as her attempting to do to Howl what she did to the Witch of the Waste, draining or severing his magic. The same stick figures appeared around the Witch when it happened to her.
      • I think not. The shadows that were used on the Witch looked much different than the spirits used on Howl. Besides, Suliman went through the trouble of sending a tidal wave through a black hole which turned into the sky, and then did that thing with the spirits, forced Howl into his demon form, and then threw a charged-up lightsaber staff at him. That was not something as simple as magic draining going on. Perhaps she intended to simply impale him on the lightsaber and thus finish him off. I am just as puzzled.
      • The shadows used on the witch were black, the absence of light, and they sucked away her magic and reversed her transformation. the ones she used on Howl were White and made of light, that is, the exact opposite, and had the opposite effect; forcing howl's transformation to accelerate. the evidence from that suggests she was trying to overload him, and forcibly convert him into a monster. The staff throw was clearly intended to stop him escaping, so it's safe to assume her overall plan was to turn him into yet another monster wizard, and probably forcibly conscript him into the army, which was exactly what he was trying to avoid when he sent Sophie.
  • I know that she was explicitly identified as one in the book, but should I assume that Sophie was actually an (untrained) witch in the movie as well?
    • Its a logical conclusion based on what happens to her in the screenplay. They just don't go out of their way to spell it out.

  • What are we to make of Turnip Head/the Prince's comment at the end that he'll be back to try and woo Sophie again, since "the one constant in this world is a fickle heart"? Is it just intended as a joke, or does it have darker implications for the future of Sophie's relationship with Howl?
    • I took it as a sort of joke, a sort of "I won't let this get me down." Hey, a man can dream, can't he?
    • There is a sequel to the book (in fact, there's two, but little-known as the first one is the second one seems to be even more obscure), so maybe it's drawing on something that'll happen there? I couldn't say, though, because they're pretty hard to get hold of so I've never read them.
      • No, I'm glad to say. Sophie is happily (if snarkily) married to Howl, though neither time is he as been seen before.
  • Why does Sophie have an English accent as a young woman and an American accent as an old woman?
    • I didn't see it as her getting an American accent or having an English accent, more that she had a lighter pronunciation and then got an old-person-cranky-creaky-voice as an adult. It just sounds comparatively American and English to you (I've heard English characters and American characters on television who sounded more American and more English, respectively, who didn't have Fake Nationality).
    • Along this line, why do Sophie and he sister have English accents when her mother has an American accent?
      • She could be American (or Ameracish, or whatever), or raised in a different part of Ingary that had an accent that sounds vaguely American, while her stepdaughters and daughter picked up their father's and the local accent.
    • You can tell the difference between an American and English accent in Japanese?
    • I just assumed it was Emily Mortimer doing a generic old-woman voice.
      • Emily Mortimer does not provide the voice of the elderly Sophie; that would be the voice of Jean Simmons. Both of whom are English.
  • That witch Suliman is a Karma Houdini. Yes, it's a complicated case in that she's working for her country, and Howl (as a powerful and independent and quasi-Demonically Possessed magician) was a threat to their war efforts. Not to mention she was either involved with the creation of the slimy war mages, or quietly complicit by not acting against their creation. They turned people into weapons with a tiny lifespan, how can she be happy at the end?!
    • I think the sort of people who'd try to hold military heroism against someone are the last people who'd have some kind of vengeful need to keep a mother and son apart. You can really chalk all her "sins" up to doing anything to have the prince returned.
    • Who's to say that she is happy? She seems to view her job with a calm practicality, that she's doing what has to be done. Throughout the movie though, we see that the wizards and witches who become involved with war and the military are ultimately slaves and screwed for life. It could be that Sulliman is just as miserable and hides it, in which case we know that she's still in the service of the king and forced to obey him.
      • Or it could be that she's been waiting for a chance to change things for the better. Note at the end when she receives Hein's communique that she requests a meeting with the prime minister to end the war-not the king seen earlier in the movie enthusiastically reviewing battle plans. It could be mirroring the decline of royal influence in politics after World War I.
  • Is Howl's castle CGI or traditional animation? My friend and I have been debating this for a while, I say CGI and he says traditional. The problem is it's really hard to tell.
    • Maybe it's both, depending on the scene?
    • Yeah, it's both.
  • Sophie really mistreats the sentient fire demon that Howl told her to take care of. Very out of character. Like forgetting to feed the dog.
    • How? She puts him in a fire-proof container with some fuel while she cleans out the hearth and lays a new fire. It's no more mistreatment than hustling someone out of their room while you clean it up and straighten it. Remember that Calcifer, in both the book and the film, is prone to being over-dramatic, as is Howl.
  • Howl's eyes. They are just too blue. It's goddamn freaky.
    • Knowing how vain he is, they're probably glamoured.
    • Might be drawn from the book - they're almost always described as "glass marbles" there.
  • Where the hell did that ending come from? Turniphead's a PRINCE? It took three viewings before I caught the one single clue to it: As Sophie's racing out of the hat shop, two old men are discussing to themselves, and one says, "Didja hear? Their prince went missing!" The comment from Howl about Turniphead having a very powerful spell on him comes off more as a, "Hey, I cast an animate spell on my scarecrow, because I am insane, and like to see my workers suffer...?"
    • I got the line the first time I saw the movie, so it wasn't a blatant Ass Pull but it was definitely a Contrived Coincidence. And Howl didn't cast the spell, he could just see the magic. But like Sophie's spell, he couldn't lift it. Turniphead had to do it himself.
      • Seconded. Except somehow I managed to pick up that the whole war was because of the prince missing, as a background detail. Turniphead turning into the prince was if anything, a deus-ex-machina way of stopping the war from my perspective, though it wasn't entirely spontaneous.
    • It's from the book; in the original turniphead was a prince, so prince he stayed in the movie.
      • No, he was half a prince.
      • No, the wizard was the original turniphead. The DOG was half a prince.
      • Actually, turniphead was the better part of the wizard, but I'm splitting hair here
      • in the book, the scarecrow says it used to guard flowers near the Waste, and when the Witch caught Saliman, he poured all the magic he could to deliver a warning/SOS. Now, that brown skull is part of the wizard (the skull later melts into the scarecrow), and probably the guitar too, and the dog is made up of both the prince and the court wizard.
  • Near the end of the movie, Madame Sueliman says "Howl found his true love. The game is over"...and immediately decides to end the war. Now, that strongly implies that she started the war to get Howl to find his true love. Did she really kill hundreds merely to teach a former student a lesson?
    • Madame Suleiman didn't start the war for Howl, but she was using the war as an excuse to track down and neutralize rogue witches and wizards. She tricked the Witch of the Waste into coming to the royal palace with an invitation supposedly motivated by the need for magic users in the war, but drained her of her powers instead. Madam Suleiman was also going to try to catch Howl since she believed he was destined to be become a monster after losing his heart. The "game" she referred to was her attempts to capture Howl. Ending the war was a separate goal that only became attainable when she saw that the missing Prince had been found.
  • If it's so "hideous" why does Howl even have the red hair dye?
    • You'll buy crazy things when you have a coupon.
    • He bought it, didn't like it, but never quite got around to throwing it out. He's quite the pack-rat; remember his bedroom?
  • Sophie obviously changes dresses just before she leaves the hat shop to go out on her own. Ignoring the obvious problem of dress size, how did she have a message from the Witch of the Waste if it note wasn't in the same dress she was cursed in?
    • The message stuck to Sophie herself, not to her clothes. It probably wasn't even "activated" until she was next to Howl again.
  • What century is the film set in?
    • The setting isn't Earth, but the overall feel of the film seems to tally with the mid-to-late 19th century.
      • There's a fairly strong WW1 vibe as well, albeit the more mobile first year of war, rather than the more famous trench stalemate.

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