High Plains Drifter Movie Ending Explained

By Klein Felt Posted:
High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter left fans with plenty of questions following its shocking ending. 

The Eastwood-led 1973 Western film is back in the news, following its streaming debut on Netflix in the U.S.

Centering on a mysterious cowpoke known as The Stranger, High Plains Drifter on the surface looks like a simple story of dustbowl revenge, but looking deeper can expose a myriad of mind-blowing possibilities.

Breaking Down High Plains Drifter

High Plains Drifter Clint Eastwood

After completing several seemingly impossible feats of survival throughout the film, High Plains Drifter ends with audiences wondering who exactly this mysterious magic man is. 

The identity of Clint Eastwood's The Stranger is left intentionally ambiguous throughout the movie, possibly hinting that he is nothing more than a ghost or apparition and not a physical human at all. 

This is evidenced both in the beginning and end of the film with the character appearing from the desert atop his horse to kick off the movie, and then stoically riding off into the sunset to close it. 

Another instance of his ghostly ways can be seen in moments where the main character is shot point-blank but left unscathed.

According to one popular fan theory (known as the 'ghost story' interpretation of the film), Eastwood's Stranger is the ghost of Marshal Jim Duncan: a character named during the movie's ending. 

High Plains Drifter Mordecai

Before the credits roll, The Stranger has a moment with Billy Curtis' Mordecai. Mordecai tells The Stranger before he leaves, "You know, I never did know your name," to which Eastwood's cowboy says, "Yes, you do."

As Eastwood's protagonist rides off and the movie fades to black, it is revealed the unmarked grave The Stranger previously said he was buried in has been engraved with, "Marshal Jim Duncan, Rest in Peace" seemingly confirming the identity of the mysterious character. 

High Plains Drifter Ending

If he is, in fact, Jim Duncan, then the events of the movie make a lot more sense. 

The film turns into a story of revenge, with Eastwood's character returning from the dead in a corporeal form to avenge his murder and torment the town that stood by as he was slain. 

Has the High Plains Drifter Ghost Theory Been Confirmed?

While the creatives behind High Plains Drifter have remained tight-lipped about the film's ending and apparent meaning, there have been hints that fans may be onto something with their 'ghost story' theory. 

Star Clint Eastwood is said to be a big fan of the speculation that surrounded the film since its 1973 release.

Eastwood even evidently favors the 'ghost story' theory from fans but has not come out to publicly declare whether fans are onto something or not. 

Seeing as the movie heavily seems to imply Eastwood's Stranger character is the deceased Marshal Jim Duncan, it does look like that is very likely the case. 

Yes, fans will supposedly never get a concrete answer one way or the other, the evidence has piled up for those who think The Stranger is more than a gruff cowboy causing chaos in the West. 

High Plains Drifter is now streaming on Netflix. 

- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.