‘Stolen’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Why Are The Reindeer Being Killed?


Stolen, or Stold in Swedish, is a new drama film on Netflix that presents the struggles of the Sami people with great authenticity, as even the language used is Northern Sami. The plot follows a young woman named Elsa as she wants to stop the merciless killings of reindeer belonging to her family and tribe, who are dependent on the animals for their livelihood. Very soon, the butchering of the animals turns out to be symbolic attacks against the Sami people as well, and the film raises important issues like xenophobia and climate change effects. As Stolen deals with a number of serious matters, it does get quite grim at times, although it is not the most entertaining of affairs.

Spoiler Alert

What is the film about?

Set in the northern snowy landscapes of Sweden, Stolen begins with a Sami family preparing their young daughter for her earmark ceremony, which is an important tradition in their culture. The young girl, Elsa, is equally excited and scared of what she has to do, as she wants to feel one with her people but also does not want to hurt any of their animals. As her father shows her the many calves she can choose from, Elsa picks up a beautiful baby reindeer with white fur and a mark on its head. She lovingly names it Nastegallu and soon cuts off its ear tip with great care, which is the most important part of the traditional ritual. In the weeks following the ceremony, Elsa and Nastegallu grow very close to each other, as the animal shows all signs of love and submission to her. Despite her father’s warnings, little Elsa also showers the reindeer with grass and other treats. Although the girl attends school in the nearby locality, she does not have much focus on education and dreams of becoming a reindeer herder, just like everyone else in her family.

But the occupation has been growing increasingly tough for the Sami people because people of other ethnicities and cultures living in the nearby areas do not respect the animals at all. In fact, a group of hunters has been killing the reindeer and even leaving boastful reminders of these murders. Tragedy strikes for Elsa when she suddenly sees a man kill Nastegallu with a knife attack, but she has to hide in fear. At one point, Elsa and the killer spot each other, and he threatens to kill her, too, if she ever speaks up about it. By the time the girl’s father, uncle, and brother reach the scene, it is too late to catch the killer. The next day, Elsa’s father takes her to the nearest police station to file a complaint against the perpetrator, and incidentally, she sees the same man at the place, having a friendly chat with the officers. Shocked and scared for her own safety, Elsa does not say anything about seeing the killer in action to the police officer, and so he does not investigate further. The police officially report Nastegallu as having been stolen, as they refuse to accept charges of slaughter.

Ten years pass by, and Elsa is now a young adult, having taken on the role of a teacher at the local school. She is as loving and protective of her culture and identity as a Sami woman, and so she is still threatened by the constant butchering of reindeer, which is still not investigated or punished. To this day, Elsa regrets not speaking up about the perpetrator despite having recognized him as their neighbor, Robert Isaksson. As the woman intends to somehow punish the man for his crimes, more troubling situations are posed against the Sami people.

Why are the reindeer being killed?

Stolen keeps no mystery regarding the identity of the men killing the reindeer or their motive behind doing so and establishes that its focus is not really the investigation into the matter. Instead, the film provides a concerned look at the targeting of a minority group and trying to cripple them by taking away their livelihood. The Sami people are entirely dependent on the herds of reindeer that they own, as their whole life is driven by the animals. As they rear the animals for skin, fur, and meat and also rely on these products as a means of trade, the indigenous people would be very clueless without the existence of the reindeer. Moreover, the practice of herding reindeer and the associated activities with it are all part of the Sami’s culture, which is severely endangered at this point in time. Through a microcosmic representation of the prejudice that they face, the film tries to make a more general statement on the very threatened existence of the Sami people in the Western modernizing world.

For people of other cultures living in the nearby regions, the reindeer is nothing more than a hassle, for they are forced to shape their lives according to the animals’ needs. Because of the close connection between the creatures and the Sami people, which are officially declared endangered, the government has also made certain rules to help both sets survive better. As a result, the others in the area have to abide by laws, such as not being able to use snowmobiles during certain seasons and having to stay clear of the paths used by the reindeer during their migration from summer to winter pastures. With no concern for the animals or the Sami people, the likes of Robert Isaksson are only attentive to their own discomforts and problems. They keep harping about how their lives are being affected by the animals and the rules surrounding their conservation in an attempt to get rid of them.

These forced adjustments in life have clearly wedged a divide between the Sami people and the local Swedes, who want opportunities and benefits close to their house but are unable to because of the conservation laws. As a result, the feeling of xenophobia is greatly on the rise among these communities, as they genuinely disrespect the Sami people, their culture, and their way of life. Such an occurrence is not just restricted to this very situation, as numerous indigenous people throughout the world are being expected to give up on their traditional practices and get integrated into the modern way of life. To make matters worse, most of the officials in the police and administration, if not all, are Swedish or Caucasians, meaning that they, too, are quite unbothered by the killings of the reindeer and the overall discrimination that the Sami face. Although none of the police officers in the film directly say so, it is felt that they, too, would not mind if the Sami people were completely wiped out of existence.

Amidst all of this, the character of Robert Isaksson takes the most daring and vile step of killing the reindeer in order to both run a business and also disrespect the Sami in the region. Robert runs an illegal reindeer hunting and meat trade, because of which he shoots down and kills numerous animals, but he is also not like any usual hunter. The man is boastful and brash with his killings, sometimes torturing and teasing the animals, even injuring and killing one with his snowmobile in one instance. He is egoistic as well, which leads to extreme anger and frustration in him often, especially with regards to the Sami people having a say in how things in the region should operate. Robert and his men kill multiple animals and make a crude altar out of the dead bodies, mocking the Sami people and their way of life. They also put the reindeer fodder on fire, destroying expensive supplies while even making a video of it and ridiculing the owners.

Thus, when Elsa starts to speak up against the vile nature of Robert and his followers and even regularly reports the killings to the police, Isaksson is furious and wants his revenge. In a drunken state, he goes over to Elsa’s house to threaten and possibly harm her in multiple ways, even carrying his hunting rifle with him. He breaks into the house on the very night that Elsa’s parents are away, and her brother is drunk. He chases her down only because he did not like her tone when she had threatened him the previous day. It is only because Elsa cleverly manages to hide in the basement and also inform the police about the intruder in her house that she survives the night. While the harming of the animals was an indirect form of attack on the Sami people, the incidents on this night are simply a direct persecution of the indigenous population.

Why is Elsa barred from attending meetings?

Along with the external problems that the group has to face, Elsa is also bitter and disgruntled with the reactions of the very people in her tribe, as they are too soft and ineffective in protecting their rights. The elected leader of the Sami in the region, Olle, is clearly not stern enough in his negotiations, and he is also rather sexist, as he does not want a woman, especially a young one like Elsa, to be so vocal about their problems. This issue of sexism seems to exist throughout the culture, as it is quite common, too, since the rights of women and their participation in important matters are things new to many cultures. Elsa is understandably frustrated by this situation, and she even seriously considers leaving the village to pursue higher education as she starts to feel that there is no way forward for her people. 

The village council soon has a meeting with representatives of all the families living in the area as the matter of a mining business being opened is discussed. The Sami people naturally object to it, as the existence of a large mine in the middle of the route used by their reindeer would cause trouble for the animals. Moreover, the mine would also pollute the water and air, along with the land, which would very quickly give rise to other environmental degradation. However, the others in the area complain that their benefits should also be considered at times. With laws against hunting and fishing, the mine would be the only major opportunity for employment in the village, which is highly required for the livelihood of these people. In this meeting, Elsa’s frustration boils over, and she directly addresses the committee, speaking about the importance of the reindeer for her people.

Some time later, when Robert Isaksson kills multiple reindeer and makes a mocking altar out of their skulls by the side of the highway, news TV channels from the nearby towns report on the incident. A false narrative—that the Sami people themselves kill their reindeer in order to get government compensation—is being floated around, and Elsa is terribly angered by it. She decides to speak out and give a whole interview to one of the news channels, which is published in the next day’s newspaper. This further shocks Olle, and he finally bars Elsa from attending meetings, both out of his egoistic pride as well as his sexist and ageist beliefs.

Can Elsa bring justice to her people?

During Stolen‘s ending, Elsa sneaks into Robert’s warehouse and photographs everything she sees inside it as proof of the illegal meat trade that was going on. Unbeknownst to her, Robert had security cameras installed all over the place, and as soon as he monitors an intrusion on his property, he returns to the place. A tense chase follows, with Robert surely intending to kill Elsa if he can get his hands on her. However, the whole situation changes as Robert loses control of his snowmobile and lands on top of a defrosting water body. The heavy weight and impact of the crash make the ice break, and the man falls into the freezing cold water. With his leg already injured by the crash, Robert is unable to swim up and immediately drowns and dies. Despite her anger against the man, Elsa had finally decided to help him, even throwing a rope towards him, but she was unable to save him. A police investigation into the matter soon led to the arrest of other men who had been part of the meat trade. Stolen ends with Elsa teaching another young boy, possibly the son of her brother or her friend, the process of cutting off the reindeer’s ear tip, suggesting that she continues to spread her culture through generations after having protected her people from the vile Robert Isaksson. 

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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