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A priest, a poker player, and a horticulturist walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s the ending of a bleak trilogy.

Marked by the success of his monumental scripts (including “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”) with collaborator Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader went on to become a director in his own right, with more than twenty films now under his belt. Throughout his career, he’s cultivated a signature style and consistently revisited specific themes often in new or modern ways.

Followed by his recent success of “First Reformed” in 2017 and the acclaimed 2021 film “The Card Counter,” writer-director Schrader is back to conclude his God’s Lonely Man Trilogy with “Master Gardener” (2023).

In each of the God’s Lonely Man Trilogy’s parts, a reclusive man mentors a troubled younger character while discovering more about his own demons in the process. “First Reformed” saw Ethan Hawke as a small-town priest attempting to pacify a young man’s obsession with the impending climate crisis, instead slipping into an existential sinkhole that leaves him questioning the church and his own faith. In “The Card Counter,” Oscar Isaac is William Tell, an ex-military officer turned professional poker player who takes the son of a former officer under his wing to attempt to point him in a less violent path. Themes abound of guilt, denial, and redemption, weaved into a commentary on some of America’s most insidious crimes and corruptions.

Schrader’s last installment once again tells the story of an isolated man grappling with a disturbing past, tortured present, and impossible future. Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is a meticulous horticulturist, devoted to tending the grounds of a beautiful estate while pandering to his employer, the wealthy Mrs. Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). When she demands that he take on her troubled great niece, it unlocks dark secrets from a buried violent past.

See how the trilogy unfolds. “Master Gardener” opens at The Varsity on Thursday, May 18.

— Kasey Dunifer

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