Netflix’s Stolen: Why Does Robert Isaksson Kill the Reindeer?

Directed by Elle Márjá Eira, Netflix’s ‘Stolen’ is a 2024 Swedish thriller that follows Elsa (Elin Oskal), a young Sámi woman who witnesses firsthand the adversities of discrimination her indigenous people face. As calamitous changes in climate and constant poaching, which endanger their reindeer herding, affect their lives, young Sámi individuals resort to suicide as they leave their depression unaddressed. In the film, we are introduced to Robert Isaksson (Martin Wallström), a poacher who has been brutally killing reindeer belonging to Elsa, her family, and the rest of the Sámi community for years. Even though Elsa and her brother confront Robert several times, they never succeed in making him say why he barbarously slaughtered their animals. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Robert Isaksson: A Poacher and Discriminator

In the opening sequences of the film, Elsa, who is just a child then, receives her first calf as an introduction to the Sámi culture. She names her reindeer calf Nástegállu. Here we understand that to the Sámi people, reindeer are more than just a livelihood; the animals are deeply integrated into their culture. While the rest of society sees the reindeer as a nuisance, the indigenous community cares for them like their own children. Several rules have been set up to prevent the interference of the outside folk with the Sámi herd, disallowing the use of snowmobiles in and around the herding lands, trespassing on herding lands, and most importantly, the killing of reindeer. However, people like Robert tend to break these laws.

One day, Elsa encounters Nástegállu among other reindeer, and sees a man approaching the herd on his snowmobile. In a tragic turn of events, the man kills Nástegállu and while trying to take the dead calf away, he notices Elsa hiding behind a tree trunk. He asks her to keep quiet and as soon as he tries to pick up the dead calf, Elsa’s father and brother arrive at the scene. The man makes a run for it, riding away on his snowmobile. This man is later introduced to us as Robert, a poacher who is secretly killing the indigenous tribe’s reindeer for profit.

Initially, Robert is depicted as a man of solitude, living in a secluded house, and a friend of local police officers. Therefore, in Elsa’s eyes, the authorities don’t see him as a suspect. When asked about the calf’s killing, Elsa, who is triggered by what she saw, is unable to tell the authorities that Robert was the reindeer killer. Without a statement, the police are unable to proceed with an investigation and for years the issue remains categorized as a “stolen” reindeer case. Elsa, of course, doesn’t give up. She grows up to be a competent reindeer herder among her people and a voice standing against the discrimination that’s hurting the minority community.

Over the years, Robert has killed many reindeer but has managed to steer clear of the police. He has mastered cleaning up his crime scene, only allowing authorities to search his house when they have a warrant. This streak of cover-ups ends when Elsa sneaks into his locked shed to gather proof of his wicked acts. She sees numerous reindeer carcasses all skinned and stored, hanging from chains resembling an evil man’s butcher shop. She is disgusted by what she sees as would any Sámi in this situation. From what we can gather here, Robert seemingly has been harvesting reindeer for their coats and meat, which he must be selling at a good price to willing buyers.

Apart from being a poacher, which in itself is a crime, Robert is also a discriminator of Sámi traditions and their right to herd reindeer on their ancestral lands. His collection of exploits is on full display as his shed is lined with carcasses of all sizes, skinned to the flesh, making one thing clear: these reindeer belonged to the Sámi people. Robert and his poaching partner’s exploitation of the animals comes to an end as Elsa retrieves ample proof of their crimes.

At this moment, Robert realizes that Elsa is in his shed through the view of a CCTV camera installed inside. He hurries back to catch her. Elsa also realizes that Robert is nearby, hearing the sound of his snowmobile approach. She hurries back out and hops on her snowmobile but he sees her leave the premises and a chase ensues. In the end, Robert’s snowmobile falls into a river covered by thin ice and even though Elsa tries to save him, he drowns and dies. His partner is later apprehended and the Sámi people once again reclaim their privilege to their ancestral lands as reindeer herders.

Read More: Stolen: Is The Swedish Thriller a True Story?