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Starring: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell, Esai Morales, Eduardo Losan, Rick Cosnett, Victoria Hill, Amy Le
OUR RATING: ★★★☆☆
Thriller drama written and directed by Paul Schrader. Master Gardener (2023) follows meticulous horticulturalist, Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton), who is devoted to tending the grounds of a beautiful estate owned by wealthy dowager, Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). When she orders Roth to take on her troubled great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as his apprentice, his life is thrown into chaos, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all.
Narvel Roth: The formal garden imposes geometric strictures on plants. Circles, squares, triangles. These are also known as French gardens. Informal gardens, also known as British gardens, were popularized in the 18th century and adhere to the shapes and contours of nature. A third type, the wild garden, only appears to be wild. It contains a seemingly random variety of plants and shrubs which supports insects and wildlife. Gardening is a belief in the future. A belief that things will happen according to plan. That change will come in its due time.
Isobel Phelps: You can’t spreadsheet nature. It’ll only surprise you.
Norma Haverhill: I love the early morning rain. It’s very, what’s the word?
Narvel Roth: Nitrogen oxide. Soulful.
Norma Haverhill: Yes, that’s it.
Narvel Roth: It’s always fun to watch grown men in pastel pants outbid each other over a flower.
Narvel Roth: There’s a few variations this year. Some practical, some seasonal.
Norma Haverhill: You know what they say, Narv? Money is the best manure. The better the money, the better the manure.
Narvel Roth: She went onto explain that aesthetic gardens were a recent development. In colonial times, gardens were utilitarian. A cross between a grocery store and a pharmacy. In the Gilded Age they became an entrance to high society. A place of conspicuous display.
Norma Haverhill: At Gracewood, we have the best of both worlds. Four generations of curated botany, horticulture, and display.
Norma Haverhill: Now, where were we, Sweet Pea?
Narvel Roth: You were wondering which color dress would be best. You wore the emerald green last year.
Norma Haverhill: With white frill on the sleeves and neck.
Narvel Roth: That’s right.
Norma Haverhill: I looked pretty good.
Narvel Roth: Yes, you did.
Maya Core: Narvel? What kind of name is that?
Narvel Roth: What kind of name is Maya?
Maya Core: Well, that is my name.
'Gardening is a belief in the future. A belief that things will happen according to plan. That change will come in its due time.' - Narvel Roth (Master Gardener) Click To Tweet
Narvel Roth: You’ll learn how to garden, and you’ll also have classes in the history of gardens, and horticulture, botany.
Maya Core: Seriously?
Narvel Roth: Seriously. And I’ll be your teacher.
Narvel Roth: We have a few cultural differences that may take you a little while to get used to. For example, this is a riddle. Oh, this is a hoe, and there are in fact thirty-eight different kinds of hoes.
Maya Core: And how many kinds of riddles?
Narvel Roth: Well, that is what we’re about to find out.
Isobel Phelps: [referring to Maya] Has Norma met her? Why not? Doesn’t that seem strange?
Narvel Roth: It’s her land. Her garden. Her grandniece.
Narvel Roth: You know, people used to walk on the soil. Now they just walk on tar and concrete, wearing rubber soles. They used to sleep on the land, and there was an exchange, and that was a healing process.
Isobel Phelps: You amaze me when you get romantic like this.
Narvel Roth: The nandina is a species of flowering plant native to Eastern Asia. The smell at certain times of the year is minty, with a hint of almond. It gives you a real buzz. Like the buzz you get just before pulling the trigger.
'Money is the best manure. The better the money, the better the manure.' - Norma Haverhill (Master Gardener) Click To Tweet
Isobel Phelps: It was commonly thought that a hundred and fifty years was the lifetime of a seed. In the 1950s, a Japanese botanist discovered viable lotus seeds in an Ice Age lakebed. A substantial portion were germinated. It is now believed that the lifetime of a seed is between eight hundred and fifty and twelve hundred and fifty years. Given the right conditions, seeds can last indefinitely. I wear mine on my skin every day.
Norma Haverhill: [referring to Maya] So, how is she doing?
Narvel Roth: Who?
Norma Haverhill: Who do you think?
Narvel Roth: It took you long enough to ask.
Narvel Roth: How much research did you do before you took her on? As I thought.
Norma Haverhill: I didn’t do much on you either.
Narvel Roth: She’s an apprentice.
Norma Haverhill: You were an apprentice once.
Norma Haverhill: [referring to Maya] It would be nice if the gardens remained in the family. Do you think she’s up to it?
Narvel Roth: That is a question only you can ask. I think that you should meet with her.
Norma Haverhill: Set that up. Now, take me to bed.
'Gardening is the most accessible of the arts. It's already there. Every seed is a plant, waiting to be unlocked.' - Narvel Roth (Master Gardener) Click To Tweet
Maya Core: I’m a very simple person.
Norma Haverhill: There’s a lot to be said for that.
Maya Core: Do you want to hear this?
Norma Haverhill: I got dressed for garden work, walked over here, I invited you to lunch, I trusted you to Narvel. Of course I want to hear what you have to say. There’s nothing I want to hear more.
Norma Haverhill: [referring to Maya’s mother] You need to remember she wasn’t my child. She was my sister’s child.
Maya Core: But her name was Norma. Her mother named her after you.
Norma Haverhill: Betty, my sister, didn’t ask my permission to do that. I thought it was presumptuous.
Maya Core: Or maybe she wanted to obligate you.
Norma Haverhill: I believe that was her point.
Norma Haverhill: I gave your mother everything I could. My sister couldn’t give her enough. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. She couldn’t weed her garden.
Maya Core: And how could you have known that?
Norma Haverhill: There are things you know in your flesh, your nostrils, your eyes.
Norma Haverhill: I came here for a pleasant lunch, and here we are in the muck of the past.
Maya Core: It is a muck farm. And I’m sorry if I offended you. But I’m not inadequate.
Norma Haverhill: No, of course you’re not. You are impertinent. And don’t think for a second about leaving Gracewood Gardens.
'Gardening is the manipulation of the natural world. A creation of order, where order is appropriate. The subtle adjustments of disorder where that would be effective.' - Narvel Roth (Master Gardener) Click To Tweet
Narvel Roth: I’ve never thought too much about women, other than as women. I’m not sure what it is about these two women, Norma and her grandniece. I’m not sure I want to know.
Narvel Roth: Take me, for example. Roth is my genus, or category, and Narvel is my specific name. Now Roth means red, or Rothum. So, if I were a Rothum, people might say, “Well, which of the reds is he?” And somebody might say, “Well, he’s the one who stinks,” and then I would be Rothum foetidum or Stinking Red. So, if you heard Rothum foetidum you would know that people were talking about me. That is, if people were thinking about me.
Maya Core: And what makes you so sure people aren’t thinking about you?
Narvel Roth: You walk a line, Maya. I walk a line. Norma walks a line. And you walk a line. Be careful.
Isobel Phelps: [after Maya is assualted by R.G] Well, frankly, I think Norma’s a little tickled by it. Not much happens at Gracewood Gardens.
Narvel Roth: Well, it’s a little too much drama for me.
Narvel Roth: Maya, I’m not a man to pry into other people’s lives. I’m certainly not a man to want people to pry into mine. The situation here is a little different. We take pride in our young staff at Gracewood. When they succeed, we feel good. And when they get drunk or post a sexist meme, well, that hurts us. But when they get beat up, that really bothers us.
Maya Core: So, you want to get rid of me?
Narvel Roth: Absolutely not. No, we want to be of help. Are you satisfied with the life that you have?
Norma Haverhill: [referring to Maya] She’ll figure it out. We all have to make our own way. You figured it out.
Narvel Roth: You were patient with me.
Narvel Roth: I have created this life. Filled it with rules. Now seems the time to break one.
Narvel Roth: So, how’s my old crowd?
Oscar Neruda: Dead, mostly.
Narvel Roth: Yeah, prison will do that to a person.