Paul Schrader’s ‘Master Gardener‘ stars Joel Edgerton as Narvel, a horticulturist who tends to the garden of a wealthy widow, Norma Haverhill. He has left behind his violent ways and settled for a quiet life in the garden. His shady past remains in the shadows as Narvel focuses on the present. However, everything changes with the arrival of Maya, Haverhill’s great-grandniece. Haverhill wants Maya to work as an apprentice under Narvel, hoping that the girl will learn how to take care of the garden so that when the time comes, Haverhill can leave it to Maya.
Despite it being a completely new thing to her, Maya turns out to be a quick learner and makes a lot of progress in a very short time. She also bonds with Narvel, who becomes protective of her. Unlikely romance blossoms between them, but when things from Narvel’s past resurface, it appears there might not be a future for them together. Here’s what happens to them at the end of the film. SPOILERS AHEAD
Do Narvel and Maya End Up Together?
When Maya arrives at Gracewood Gardens, she is not received by Haverhill. Her aunt keeps a distance from her until she becomes convinced that Maya is worthy of her time. As opposed to this, Narvel is attentive to Maya, and he not only makes her well-versed in the ways of the garden but also acts like a guardian to whom she can turn in time of her need. Moreover, she uses drugs, and because she knows Narvel has a history of drug use, it makes it easier for her to talk about it with him.
To Maya, it looks like they have a lot in common, but she is completely unaware of Narvel’s history. It isn’t until much later that she discovers that Narvel was part of a white supremacist group. He was brought up with a white nationalist agenda and turned into a racist by his family. He harbored hatred toward people of color, and when he grew older, he was taught to turn this hatred into violence. Narvel once killed a black man, but he couldn’t kill his wife and child.
Narvel decided to turn against his family and group and became a state witness. In return for his testimony, he was sent into witness protection and given a chance to start anew with a new identity. This meant he would have to leave behind his wife and daughter, but he had no other options. By becoming a witness, he had called enough trouble upon himself. If he returned to his family, they would have to pay that price.
When Narvel was still with his group, he got tattoos all over his chest and back, which proved beyond a doubt which ideology he subscribed to. When he got out of that and went into witness protection, he didn’t get those tattoos removed, perhaps as a form of punishment to himself, to remind himself of what he had done. Another reason he didn’t get rid of the tattoos could be that Haverhill, with whom he was having an affair, seemed to like it. Perhaps, she didn’t want him to get rid of the tattoos, so he didn’t.
The tattoos represented a dark part of Nervel’s history, which he decided to lay bare to Maya when they were forced out of the garden after Haverhill suspected them of having an affair. He never removed his shirt in front of anyone else, so no one knew about who he used to be. But one night, he removes his shirt, knowing full well that Maya could see him. The next day, she confronts him about it. She is shocked to know that he could be a person full of hate and that he would hurt people for it. She is angry and disgusted, but she gives him a chance to explain.
Narvel tells her everything, assuring her that he has left behind the person he used to be and is only focused on being who he is now. Despite her reservations about him, Maya gives him the benefit of the doubt. She wonders why, even if he wasn’t a racist anymore, he didn’t get rid of the tattoos. Later, Narvel promises to get rid of the tattoos, and he and Maya have sex.
The following day, Narvel discovers that R.G., the drug dealer who had hit Maya, vandalized the garden with his accomplice, Sissy. With Maya’s help, he finds them. He hands her the gun, telling her to shoot them and have her revenge. However, she runs away, and Narvel leaves after breaking their legs. This is warning enough for them not to mess with him or Maya anymore.
Once the threat is resolved, Narvel returns to Haverhill and proposes a return to the garden. He wants to restore it, but there is a condition. Narvel and Haverhill used to sleep together before Maya came around. This got him fired, and Maya was ousted from the garden because Haverhill felt cheated by him. Haverhill previously mentioned that she is dying, and Narvel knows she cannot get someone as competent and familiar with her gardens as him.
He is the best option she has for the restoration of her garden. However, he doesn’t want to come back alone. He will come back with Maya, and they will stay there as husband and wife. While Haverhill doesn’t seem so pleased with the idea, she has no other option, so she allows it. In the final scene, we see Narvel and Maya dancing together on the cabin’s porch, where they will live from now on.