Paul Schrader returns to complete his Trilogy about Outsiders with Master Gardener.
Does redemption truly exist?
It’s the question that writer/director Paul Schrader has been asking repeatedly over his decades-long career. From Hardcore to Blue Collar to Affliction to First Reform to The Card Counter are all austere looks at austere men grappling with the notion of redemption. With Master Gardener, the director tackles redemption yet again with a fascinating look at hate.
Norvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) lives a calculated and detailed life as the horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens, the expansive estate owned by the particular Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). Norvel journals about his past, present, and future through the plants, flowers, and other flora and fauna he nurtures. The past comes to haunt him and those around him as Ms. Haverhill’s niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) is taken on as an apprentice at the Gardens. Norvel and Maya connect through their present, traumas, and dark pasts. Can Norvel find redemption through love but never forget the past he came from?
Make no mistake, Master Gardener is a test of not only the empathy that Maya has for Norvel but the audience will have for the character. Schrader is always at his best when dealing with society’s dangerous outsiders. Here he has found himself the most striking of characters pulled directly from January 6th headlines.
The distance that Schrader presents not just Norvel but everyone and everything incident in Master Garden gives one pause. It is this quality that allows one to take or leave what is a story of compassion, forgiveness, and understanding that deeds are never forgotten but one can move beyond them even when others never will. It’s a radical notion but one that many often say, “love is the answer”, but never want to see accomplished. We are a society that demands justice and someone to suffer an eternity for their sins.
Many will want to disown Master Gardener for the notion that the main character’s past as a racist murderous zealot is condoning his actions. Which the film and its director ensure never is implied. Even in its closing moments the postulates, without love and compassion how are we to move forward and beyond? The answer is within the final shot of the film, one filled with an unsure future for two characters finding their way through the darkest of pasts. Or more specifically; the only way for us to move beyond the darkness is through love and understanding. A simple notion, yes, but in the hands of writer/director Paul Schrader, one filled with layers that have yet to be discovered.