In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Master Gardener, we will explain the film’s ending.
- Joel Edgerton – Narvel Roth
- Sigourney Weaver – Norma Haverhill
- Quintessa Swindell – Maya Core
- Esai Morales – Oscar Neruda
- Eduardo Losan – Xavier
- Victoria Hill – Isobel Phelps
- Amy Le – Janine
- Erika Ashley – Maggie
- Jared Bankens – R.G.
- Matt Mercurio – Sissy
- Rick Cosnett – Stephen Collins
- Paul Schrader – Writer and director
The end of Master Gardener explained
After finding out that R.G. and Sissy have vandalized Gracewood Gardens, Narvel returns to the garden with Maya to assess the damage. He walks into his former house and finds Nazi imagery graffitied on the walls. He then visits Norma in her home to see how she’s doing. She is clearly vengeful, brandishing a gun that Narvel takes away from her. He hides the gun in his house and retrieves another gun hidden in the floorboards. He plans to enact revenge on R.G. and Sissy. Maya convinces him to let her tag along, as she can find out where R.G. and Sissy are hiding.
After Maya makes a call and finds out where they’re partying that night. Narvel storms the house with his gun and forces R.G. and Sissy against the wall. He then hands the gun to Maya and offers her the chance to shoot them. Maya holds the gun, contemplates, then decides against using it. Narvel takes the gun from her and then breaks both of the men’s legs. He and Maya drive away.
In the next scene, Narvel returns to Gracewood Gardens. He hands back Norma’s gun and tells her that he will return to the garden to help fix the damage caused by R.G. and Sissy. Narvel also says that his affair with Norma is over, and that he will move into his old house with Maya, whom he plans to marry. In frustration, she says that the entire situation is obscene, only for Narvel to respond, “No it’s not. I’ve seen obscene.” Norma then turns the gun on Narvel, only for him to reveal that the gun isn’t loaded.
Narvel then walks out of Norma’s home and gives this internal monologue:
A garden job well done is a visual pleasure. Where there was an unsightly tangle there is a display of what should be there instead of what should not be. Gardening is the manipulation of the natural world. The creation of order where order is appropriate. The subtle adjustments of disorder where that would be affected.
Narvel then returns to his house and dances with Maya on the porch. They continue to dance as the credits roll.
That final quote is key to understanding the strange ending of Master Gardener. In true Paul Schrader fashion, dialogue from the main character quite literally outlines the thematic catharsis of the film. The men of Schrader’s films—in movies like Light Sleeper and First Reformed—often speak internal monologues aloud to the viewer. We are constantly clued into what they think from moment to moment and how they see the world. And this quote perfectly sums up Narvel’s state of mind at the end of the film.
But before we assess the quote and fully understanding the ending of Master Gardener, let’s go back through everything we covered in the recap.
The vandalization of Gracewood Gardens
It’s important to first understand Gracewood Gardens as an important motif. Norma’s garden is an ever-present construction in Narvel’s life, offering insight into his desire to cultivate change. Narvel had an ugly history as a neo-Nazi who maimed and murdered in the name of White Supremacy. But everything changed when he couldn’t bring himself to murder a Black priest’s wife and daughter. The event left him scarred, and soon afterward he snitched to the police about his associates. Forced to give up his original identity and start a new life, the garden represented his chance to quite literally grow something new. While he didn’t know anything about horticulture, he became an expert in an effort to build a different life.
This is why Schrader spends so much time with Narvel in Gracewood. We witness the meticulous day-to-day proceedings, Narvel’s intense commitment to the soil, the plants, the entire cultivation mentality. For him, it’s more than a job—it’s a way of life. It’s important to his very being, his rebirth. The trials and tribulations of rebirth is the most prevalent theme in Master Gardener, as Narvel constantly tries to look forward while the smog of his past looms behind. He hides a key part of his past in order to concentrate on the future: his tattoos, the most important motif in the film, rest just beneath his clothing and are always in danger of being exposed. Narvel has ostensibly cultivated a new identity, yet he’s burdened by his past decisions that are still very much part of him and his body.
The vandalization of Gracewood Gardens then represents the exposure of this disguise. Suddenly, the plants he carefully potted and plotted are uprooted; Nazi symbols adorn the walls of his home; underneath the floorboard rests the gun that recalls the priest and his family; and, of course, there’s Norma, who knows all about Narvel’s past, who feels attracted to his darker side. All of that negative energy is suddenly associated with a bright, beautiful place that had seemingly allowed him to start fresh.
The entire dynamic is a metaphorical manifestation of his situation: Narvel must learn to shed that hateful part of himself. Of course he’ll never be able to rid himself entirely of his ugly past—that’ll always be part of him. But he can make baby steps and learn to coexist with it. He can remove the tattoos. He can rid thugs like R.G. and Sissy from Maya’s life. He can, ultimately, exorcize the demons that have continued to haunt his new existence. He can learn to hold power over those demons.
Breaking R.G. and Sissy
R.G. and Sissy candidly represent Narvel’s past. They are scummy criminals that bully anyone they feel they can intimidate. And they take advantage of people like Maya—to which Narvel objects. In Maya, he recognizes someone else who deserves a second chance. Unlike Narvel, Maya is young and has her entire life ahead of her, which is why he feels motivated to help her kick the drug addiction. In a way, Narvel uses Maya as a substitute for the work he must do on himself.
So after Maya kicks the drug habit, she turns the tables on Narvel: she forces him to remove the tattoos, and she offers to help rid R.G. and Sissy of their lives. Those criminals metaphorically represent Narvel’s past, but they are also very much part of his and Maya’s present. Together, Narvel and Maya can remove these characters from their lives and every bad omen they represent.
This is why Narvel offers the gun to Maya. He allows her the opportunity to punish these men who have wreaked havoc on her life. But knowing everything Narvel went through, Maya sees the proper parth. She chooses a path of light, of turning the other cheek—meanwhile, Narvel makes an example of R.G. and Sissy.
While you could view his abuse of these two thugs as contradictory to Narvel’s rebirth, it’s actually a chance for him to take control. R.G. and Sissy are Narvel’s past personified, and he can literally fight those personas with his bare hands. When Narvel breaks their legs, think of it as parallel to Batman. What Batman does is ugly and violent arguably wrong, yet Batman justifies his behavior by his moral code of ethics. Narvel simply cannot allow these men hurt him and his future wife any longer. So by breaking their legs, their ability to walk, to move forward, to tread on Gracewood Gardens any further, Narvel learns to coexist with his past in a healthy way.
Dancing on the porch
While the dancing might strike some people as an odd way to end a film, this is actually a classic Schrader trope. In both Light Sleeper and The Card Counter, the films end with a quiet, meditative moments of reflection and physical touch. It’s a moment where Schrader chooses to show rather than tell. Plot resolution isn’t the focus here—philosophical contemplation takes precedence, placing all the weight on the energy surrounding the characters.
Before Narvel dances with Maya, he visits Norma in her mansion. After listing his demands, her only course of action is to pull a gun on him—a last-ditch attempt at intimidation by using the very weapon that recalls Narvel’s past. But Narvel isn’t afraid. Narvel has seen obscene. He may have the Batman energy of a killer, but he’s learned to harness that energy for good. He has seen the light, he has exorcised his past, and he is ready for the next step.
And that next step means embracing Maya and moving on from Norma. Norma may own Gracewood Gardens, but she doesn’t own the atmosphere built by Narvel. Without him, Gracewood Gardens would be nothing. And Narvel knows that. He knows that Norma will keep him around for the sake of rebuilding a family heirloom.
Which brings us to the dance. Originally, Norma wanted Maya to take over Gracewood Gardens for egotistical reasons, to preserve the legacy of her family name. Norma was cold towards Maya’s mother and had no interest in what Maya truly wanted. But now that Maya has kicked her drug habit and found love, she recognizes the good she can manifest at Gracewood Gardens. With Narvel, she can start her own family that carries the energy of her own mother, that transcends Norma’s pompous mindset. With all that context, that internal monologue from Narvel now makes sense. He’s finally ready to move on from his past, and can join Maya on that journey.
And how do they express that commitment to grow with one another? Much like the ending of Light Sleeper and The Card Counter, they share a quiet moment—a dance. Throughout Master Gardener, there’s a calmness to the film’s implicit philosophy. The mood ranges from light and airy to intimidating and chilling—but never overwhelmingly dark. Which engages in such a uniquely accessible way. Altogether, this ecosystem provides a necessary pattern for growth. This natural cathartic progression for Narvel culminates with a symbol of pure optimism, a dance, that also isn’t overly sentimental or naive. The goodness shrouding Narvel as he and Maya dance feels earned, authentic, unadulterated. It’s the perfect cap to the movie’s thematic explorations.
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