YOU WON’T BE ALONE is not a typical witch story. Despite moments of horror and gore, writer and director Goran Stolevsk is far more interested in exploring humanity through the mystical creatures who live on its periphery than in terrifying audiences with superstitions and folklore. Set in 19th Century Macedonia, Stolevsk’s film depicts the complex relationship between Maria (Anamaria Marinca), an old and deeply scarred witch who has withdrawn from the world, and Nevena (Sara Klimoska), the child she kidnaps and transforms with her mystical powers. As their stories wind together, the two witches embody each stage of feminine life: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Known as the Triple Goddess, this deity represents a sacred understanding of the ever-turning cycle of life. These are the lenses through which Maria and Nevena experience the world and the thread that binds them together.
Nevena is an infant when she is first approached by the witch known as Old Maid Maria. Covered in scars, Maria caresses the baby with sharp claws protruding from the tips of her fingers. She intends to feast on the child, but Nevena’s mother makes a desperate plea for more time with her daughter. She offers the girl to Maria on her 16th birthday as a companion for her nomadic life. Maria agrees but seals the bargain by severing the baby’s tongue, essentially silencing her for life. Nevena’s mother squanders this gift of time by hiding her daughter away in a sacred cave she believes Maria cannot enter. Nevena grows up in isolation, knowing only her mother before Maria eventually returns to claim her companion. Finally free of her stone prison, Nevena explores the forests, fields, and streams of the mountainside while delighting in the natural world she’s been deprived of. Maria soon transforms her into a witch and bestows upon her the ability to inhabit the skin of any creature she kills. By shapeshifting, Nevena is able to explore the experience of life through many different eyes and learns to be human by connecting with the people around her.
Nevena begins her independent life by embodying the Maiden. Known for exploration and experimentation, this archetype evokes the joy of discovering simple pleasures and testing the limits of the natural world. Nevena spends only a short time with the woman she internally calls “Witch-Mama,” before pushing back against Maria’s cruel lessons. Enraged, she rebukes the independent girl and leaves her to fend for herself. After wandering the mountainside alone, Nevena stumbles upon a village and accidentally kills a young woman while hiding in a hayloft. She assumes the woman’s body and begins to explore her capacity to shapeshift. The joy she finds in finally having a tongue and a circle of women to care for her is infectious, though the life she takes over is one of sorrow. The young woman lives with a cruel and abusive husband and Nevena quickly discovers the limiting expectations for women as well as the dominant tendencies of men.
After shedding her first skin, Nevena takes the body of a man and enjoys the freedom of unquestioned control. Her first experience with sex is in a male body, and she marvels at the joy of working in the field, far away from the confines of domesticity. Though she explores life in the form of animals as well, Nevena finds a home of sorts in the body of a young girl who has fallen to her death on the rocky cliffs. Essentially recapturing the life that was stolen from her, she lives for many years as this girl, making friends and falling in love with a boy from the village. Having finally finished exploring, she has chosen her path and attempts to enter the next phase of life’s cycle.
For most of the film, Maria embodies the Crone. In this final stage of feminine life, she lives in isolation, wandering from place to place seeking food and little else. Though this phase often carries negative connotations, it can also be understood as a time to shed the artifice of cultural expectations. A Crone is no longer concerned with appearance, attracting a partner, or caring for children. She focuses her attention solely on herself and turns deep within to hone the wisdom she’s gained over her years. The Crone is sometimes cruel, sometimes compassionate, but allowed to fully explore the depths of her internal self without concern for the larger world around her.
Maria serves as Mother to Nevena for only a brief period before rejecting her and watching from the shadows. Her lack of interest in nurturing the child likely comes from the memory of a horrific tragedy and her own journey through the cycle of life. Maria was born in a village bereft of boys. Unable to find a husband, she lives with her aging father and watches as her friends marry and bear children. She exists in a prolonged state of Maidenhood, prevented from moving on with her life by the inability to find a partner. The witch who transforms her merely completes the spitting ritual and then moves on, refusing to pause for so much as a word of guidance. Denied the chance to become a mother, she is also deprived of a Witch-Mama of her own to nurture her in this new existence.
Maria’s luck seems to turn when she receives word of a young man in another village looking for a wife. Overjoyed, she travels the long distance only to find a young man on his deathbed. She is essentially raped in hopes of continuing the family line and preventing the young man from dying a virgin. When Maria herself becomes ill, the townspeople suspect a witch in their midst and attempt to burn her as an act of purification. But Maria does not perish in the flames. Her body is horribly burned but unhurt, carrying the scars of this devastating betrayal on her skin for all eternity.
When Nevena’s mother first sees Maria hovering over the crib, she assumes the witch intends to steal her daughter, but Maria only laughs. She no longer wants children, having long ago abandoned her desire to embody the Mother. She reluctantly decides to “adopt” the girl more out of curiosity than any desire to raise her as her own. But Maria has been so deeply hurt that she is unable to open her heart and give Nevena the unconditional love she craves. Periodically checking in throughout Nevena’s Maidenhood, she warns the girl not to trust anyone. If they find out who she truly is, they will burn her too. Maria prefers to live a nomadic life, traveling from place to place seeking food. She has the opportunity to live in any skin she wants, but she chooses to keep her body of her scars, taking other forms only out of practicality. The wisdom she has gathered is that the world is cruel to women and she attempts to pass this harsh lesson on to Nevena. But deep in her exploration of life, Nevena interprets these warnings as threats. When Motherhood again proves too painful, Maria rejects the child and reverts back to the comfort of her solitary life as a Crone.
Stolevsk takes pains to show that one can embody the Mother archetype without physically giving birth to a child or even identifying as a woman. A Mother is a person who loves unconditionally and uses the strength of their body to nurture a child. It is not the act of producing a baby that makes Maria a Mother but the service, compassion, and nurturing relationship she attempts to have with Nevena. With essentially no knowledge of the larger world, Nevena’s emergence from the caves could be seen as a birth. With her Witch’s Spit, Maria gives birth to the version of Nevena that will live forever. She is a role model for the child and attempts to guide her in navigating the world in safety. Though deeply flawed, Maria can be a mother to Nevena in any body she chooses to inhabit.
After many years of Maidenhood, Nevena finds her chosen place with a husband who loves her. They settle into domestic bliss, and Nevena soon finds that she is pregnant. But on the eve of the birth, her husband is gored to death by a boar, revealed to be Maria in disguise. The pain of her trauma is so deep that she cannot bear to watch Nevena embody the Mother she once longed to be. Or perhaps her love for the girl manifests as a desire to protect her from the suffering she once endured. By killing Nevena’s husband, she has removed the possibility that he will discover her true identity and break her heart. But Nevena does give birth to her child, a daughter. And now Maria threatens another infant. Terrified for the tiny girl who made her a Mother, Nevena uses her own Witch’s Spit to transform the baby and protect her from Maria. Like her mother before her, Nevena does not wish to lose the daughter she loves and wants to embody the spirit of Motherhood for as long as she can.
The film’s title YOU WON’T BE ALONE is the promise Nevena’s mother makes to the Crone when bargaining for Nevena’s life. She offers her infant daughter as a companion on Maria’s lonely journey through life — if Maria can only accept it. But her pain is so intense that she rejects this connection, only finding peace in isolation. Stolevsk’s film shows the beauty in embracing all three aspects of the Triple Goddess in ourselves and in those with whom we share our lives. No matter how we identify or what bodies we inhabit, at some point we will all be a Maiden, exploring the humanity we’ve been given and learning to embrace the world around us. We will all be a Mother, guiding and caring for a person we see as a younger version of ourselves. And we will all be a Crone, turning our focus inward to hone the knowledge we’ve spent a lifetime building. The cycle will repeat itself many times, as it has since the origins of the Goddess herself. The only constant is change, and we will see a multitude of these sacred cycles spin out around us. The true nature of living lies in embracing this sacred connection between each version of ourselves and the world around us.