The Stranger (2022) Movie Ending, Explained: Crimes Thrillers are the most-enjoyed genre after romantic comedies, and I wouldn’t be wrong if I say that everyone enjoys a good crime thriller/drama. With the advent of streaming platforms, thrillers and suspense dramas have found their way into the lives of the most casual of viewers. When we talk about Australian crime thrillers, the filmmakers of this part of the cinematic world have always tried to make mystery movies more enjoyable with their dark and oblivious tone, complex characters, and grim atmosphere.
Participating in a story about a possible crime, with a narrative that investigates why the criminal did it in the first place always sets a thrill or excitement in the audience. These movies have an equal share of psychoanalysis of the criminal’s mind, a deeper understanding of how the human mind works as they slowly peel off the layers of the crime itself. The fact that they simultaneously put you on the edge of conflict, violence, resolution, or nihilism makes them all the more intriguing.
And although Netflix – as one of the most streamed OTT platforms in the world, ensures blowing its own trumpet about major releases, when the streamer chooses to casually drop titles Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris starrer The Stranger with little to no fanfare, one can’t be more amused by it. Tom Wright helms this drama/thriller about an undercover cop who becomes friends with a criminal that wishes to clear his past life for a fresh start.
In the following article, I take a detailed look at The Stranger, trying to decipher its many turns and what that bleak ending actually signifies. Spoiler alert, please read at your own discretion.
The Stranger (2022) Netflix Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
The film begins with an ominous sound and a close shot of a mountain’s deep, dark, isolated forest. The first line of dialogue we hear wants us to close our eyes and focus on our breathing. It seems the narrator wants us to focus all our energy on what and how the story unfolds in this secluded city of Western Australia.
The process of breathing in means you are taking in as much clean air as you can, and breathing out signifies the black air due to anxiety, stress, or any other worries that you carry. And as you breathe out, the black air takes out your body’s tension. While the narrator’s suggestion of continuing with the breathing exercise slowly fades in the background, we soon learn there has been an ongoing police investigation in the city’s riverside with the search team looking for new clues.
Henry (Sean Harris), a middle-aged man, becomes friends with Paul (Steve Mouzakis) as they are heading to Western Australia. While Henry is going back home, it would be for the first time that Paul is going to WA after clearing out of Queensland. As Henry spends more time with Paul, he learns about the prospect of new work that requires a reliable man to do the job. However, Henry ensures that his new friend understands that he doesn’t want to get involved in a line of work that would require him to ‘be violent.’
The next day, a new man comes to pick Henry up from the decided pickup point. When he asks for Paul, the man introduces himself as Mark (Joel Edgerton) and tells him that Paul isn’t available now. While driving, Mark shares that he works with a group that specializes in cleaning off past criminal records for the people who wish to work with them.
After closely observing how smoothly and covertly the specialized group erases off people’s records, Henry slowly gets drawn into this operation, thinking he could also get a clear shot into the future. He soon starts working with the group helping with little errands like moving illegal substances and forming a close friendship with Mark.
However, we soon learn that Mark is an undercover agent and that the group he is working for is a special troop put together to catch Henry from admitting his heinous crime of abducting a child and murdering him eight years ago.
Simultaneously, we are also shown a timeline where a police officer is working on a case around P-28 that entails that Henry was a person of interest for the crimes of 12 May 2002, which was about the abduction and murder of a young boy named James Liston. However, the case became dormant at that point after the detectives are left with insufficient evidence to arrest him.
Why do the police believe that Henry Teague kidnapped and murdered James Liston?
On the night of 12 May 2002, a young boy named James Liston is kidnapped from a bus stop nearby to his house. According to the footage in the nearby security camera, the police have targeted Henry Teague as the prime suspect. The footage shows that Henry drives by the abduction scene around the same time the kidnapping occurred.
However, Henry has a different story to share with the police. According to him, he happened to visit an elderly friend, who he proves can be his alibi, but now is in a nursing home and can’t speak anything. While everything in the investigation leads to Henry, the case cannot prove that Henry has kidnapped James due to the unavailability of concrete evidence. Since he can only lead them to the young boy, the investigating officers cannot make an arrest because of the uncertainty of whether the boy was murdered eight years ago or is still alive.
The authorities believe Henry’s records can solidify the case as he was also suspected of committing child assault in the northern territories. However, Henry is supposedly quick to erase any evidence that could trace back to him. The present investigative team officers later find out that Henry had changed his name from Peter Morley, which was listed for his crime in the NT.
This new information can help the police put pressure on Henry, to bring new leads to the case; however, they still need to be cautious with him due to a lack of physical evidence or any confession from his end. The lead investigative officer Kate Rylett calls Henry and tells him that he has been summoned for an inquiry in Queensland. Henry agrees to visit; however, he is later arranged to return to WA since nothing was found against him.
How did the task force decide to make Henry confess?
At this point in the film, the story has established that Henry met Paul, an undercover agent working with the task force during this particular bus ride to WA. While Henry seems desperate to leave his past life behind and move forward in his life, he agrees to participate with Paul in working for the powerful drug smuggling gang.
With that, Mark has won Henry’s trust as he seems to believe he is part of an underground mafia. He thinks that being loyal to these people will guarantee a clean record and a clear future for him. In the meantime, we also see Henry becoming a close friend to Mark as he invites him to his house for drinks. Henry is a lonesome fella whose personality oscillates between calm and disturbing, with a secretive menacing demeanor to his actions.
However, he has opened up to Mark since the latter has shown him a humane side that most people usually won’t due to his appearance and nature. On the other side, Mark is also taken aback by Henry’s gesture of opening up to him since he has always been too cautious about maintaining distance.
Mark makes sure Henry understands the terms of being honest about himself so he can get clearance from any past records that could prove fatal for his present time working with the gang. However, Henry never divulges anything, which doesn’t work for long. As time passes, we get to know new information, such as his time in jail, the change of his name, or the child assault in the NT. Every time new details emerge, Mark pretends to be surprised by the information in front of Henry.
How does Mark handle his double life as an undercover agent and a leading man in the underground mafia gang?
At this point, Mark is the man who is supposed to win Henry’s trust and become his acquaintance. While doing so, Mark is under immense pressure to keep his cool and maintain his character in front of Henry. However, Mark is a father to a young boy, and he is constantly triggered or anxious about the safety of his child. Despite remaining calm while performing his duty as the leading man of this covert operation, on the inside, Mark is worried, thinking about the potential of a criminal mind like Henry.
Now and then, Mark would dream about Henry following him or breaking into his house and keeping a close eye on his child. The nightmare or hallucination often triggers Mark to a point where he would hyperventilate as if he is going through intense trauma. The double life of playing an undercover mafia gang member, being a cop, and staying true to his character on both sides while being a dutiful father is slowly getting to him.
He often wakes up from traumatizing or angsty dreams and smoke cigarettes to release the pressure he feels all the time due to being in the presence of a criminal with whom he has to be friendly at all times.
When Mark’s boss notices him breaking his character because of the immense pressure, he gets summoned to a routine mental health checkup to maintain his stability on the case. While the therapist asks him various questions to understand if he is under trauma or stress due to the case, he answers no to most queries or shrugs off by saying he doesn’t understand what the therapist means with the questions.
The Stranger (2022) Movie Ending Explained:
Is the Police able to arrest Henry?
Even though Henry seems like someone who can not harm a fly as new information emerges, Mark is convinced that he is not a man to be trusted. The leading officer, Rylett, and her team cooperate with the team Mark is working with, and they come up with various scenarios to make Henry believe that he is indeed working with a gang that can clear his records. Mark soon introduces Henry to the higher-up boss John (also a senior police officer).
John arranges a private meeting with Mark and his new friend, where they try to make Henry reveal nitty gritty details that he could be hiding from them. They tell him that it is essential for him to share every little detail that he might have done in the past so that it is easier for them to track down his records and erase them all.
However, Henry remains tight-lipped and doesn’t share anything with them. Seeing he is cautious and not revealing details that could help them trap him, they start plotting little scenes. In the meantime, Henry is already thinking about buying chartered planes with the money he will get from smuggling drugs, so he can start a business on his own doing the same.
When one day, John summons Mark and Henry and shares that he received a tip from someone that Henry was involved in kidnapping and murdering a child. Henry’s face turns ash-white at the mention of the information, but he remains calm. John convinces him to reveal the truth, so he can ask his men to help him clear the evidence, as he doesn’t want anything ruining his reputation.
Seeing if he will not share any details, his free pass may jeopardize, Henry admits he kidnapped and murdered the young boy. Soon, John arranges another private session; this time, with Mike pretending to be someone who deals with omitting evidence from the crime scene.
Mark is soon excused from the conversation to make it look more intimate for Henry to get comfortable in front of John and the other man. While Henry starts sharing the details of his crime and the whereabouts of the poor boy’s remains, Mark, along with Rylett and her team members record and listen to their conversation from the other room.
John convinces Henry to take Mark and his men to take them to the spot where he killed the boy. And soon, we are taken to a place in the dark forest where Henry murdered the child. However, he doesn’t reckon if there was any water body back when he buried the child after killing him. While Henry shows them the exact spot and looks at Mark with a somewhat strange, satisfactory face – he soon realizes that the entire police force has entrapped him from all around.
Shortly after we see the special force team conducting an extensive search of the area to find out any remains of the evidence as the police arrest Henry. We are left to slowly accept that Henery will be left free again as days go by without any evidence being found. Until finally, one of the operative raises their hand, signaling that he has found something and the screen fades to black.
Mark is they seen passing away from where Henry got arrested and looks behind at the searching troop, feeling anxious and relieved simultaneously. However, even with the culprit getting arrested for the crime, it seems Mark is severely disturbed.
The ending of The Stranger finds Mark in a complete sleepless state. The final sequence is about him smoking cigarettes outside in the middle of the night while his son looks at him from a distance by the window as the smoke blows away.
Signifying that even though the case is shut and Mark is cleared from the case, he is still not at peace. There could be more predators like Henry out in the open committing crimes, and parents like Mark will always remain in a constant bought of stress, worrying if their children are safe or not.