Master Gardener Review

The opening credits of Master Gardener include segments of different plants growing with disturbing music playing in the background. The environment in the film’s tense and eerie introduction displays the brilliance of writer and director Paul Schrader. After this setup, the film transitions to the main character elaborating on plant types and the history surrounding them. The mind of someone who has a fascination with plants is just the beginning of the unexpected in Master Gardener.

The movie’s main character is Narvel played by Joel Edgerton. Narvel is an expert of horticulture and gardening. His boss is Norma played by Sigourney Weaver. Norma asks Narvel to mentor her niece, Maya, who is played by Quintessa Swindell. The garden is called Gracewood Gardens. Narvel is the king and the guide to the operations of this beautiful environment. Narvel even narrates about plants and their background during sporadic moments in Master Gardener.

The enthusiasm of Narvel and is work at Gracewood Gardens is calculated and extremely accurate, but the gardening and plantations are not the sole focus of the story. The story is about Maya, the one doing the apprenticeship with Narvel. Gracewood Gardens is Narvel’s sanctuary, and it offers a landscape of potential knowledge and necessary patience for Maya.

There are tensions to consider as Master Gardener goes deeper into its character studies. Schrader always finds a way to stir the pot in his projects. Maya and Norma are related and there is a past conflict between them. Narvel has a bad track record as well and with his involvement, there is more depth to the film’s eerie continuity. As conflict arises, Narvel’s narration regarding gardening continues and begins to get more personal. Then Maya begins to grow more comfortable with Narvel. Is it appropriate, however, for them to have a close bond?

Narvel’s past is unsettling, haunting, and unexpected. Master Gardener is poetic in its approach to Narvel advocating for Maya due to problems in her life with individuals she can’t dismiss. This creates boundary problems as Narvel and Maya grow closer which in turn lead to problems with Norma causing hatred and disgust to linger.

Narvel’s knowledge of gardening begins to serve a deadly purpose. There is a moment where he mentions to some shady people that his sheers can do more damage than pruning. Schrader finds the right time to have the evilness rise in Narvel. As Maya is Narvel’s new responsibility, he must consider how both their lives could be impacted. There may be a point where neither can go back to a life where the darkness was once put behind them.

Schrader is a true auteur as a writer and director.  I felt the brilliance of his invigorating concepts throughout Master Gardener. What came to my mind as I watched this movie were previous films Schrader has written ranging from Taxi Driver (1976) to Raging Bull (1980) to The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  All these films are masterpieces directed by Martin Scorsese. I have come to realize that the personalities of Schrader’s characters make his projects so amazing. No one can go wrong with the mind of Schrader.

Beneath all the troubles, the love of Narvel’s gardening has surreal moments. The pasts of both Narvel and Maya are painful. Narvel’s love for gardening symbolizes a craft which allows one to leave the past behind. This proves to be a daunting challenge due to the circumstances in Master Gardener. The writing and directing of Schrader, as always, allows the audience to develop a better understanding of the unexpected tensions and their eventual outcomes. Three and a half stars for Master Gardener.


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