Baldvin Z’s new documentary ‘Beyond Strength’ reveals the man behind the myth of Reynir Leósson, an Icelander so strong that he could run with horses on his back, lift lorries and bend coins. Despite smashing two Guinness World Records, including a jailbreak from Keflavík prison using only his bare hands, Reynir never received the recognition he desired and succumbed to a premature, alcohol-related death in 1982.
“It’s a tragic story, from beginning to end,” says Baldvin, who has been obsessed by Reynir’s story since he was six-years-old. Compelled to complete a personal journey with the film, Baldvin ultimately reveals how a combination of childhood abuse and a tangible connection to the supernatural shaped Reynir Sterki (Reynir The Strong), who physically broke free of his chains, but remained mentally bound by them.
Frail and imperfect
“I thought he was a superhero for about 15 years until I started to get to know him. He then started to really interest me because of how frail, imperfect and complicated he was,” Baldvin says. “Everything about Reynir was like music to my ears. He constantly surprised me the whole time while I was doing the film.”
Initially setting out to explain how Reynir had achieved seemingly impossible physical feats, Baldvin now concedes that the elusiveness of his abilities only makes them more endearing. “Maybe he was really, really clever but there is some ‘X’ element involved,” he confesses. As a staunchly religious man, Reynir claimed that he was given his strength during an apparition of Christ as a child. To sceptics, this might seem dubious, but in the bewildering context of ‘Beyond Strength,’ this anecdote seems entirely feasible. For example, when Baldvin is interviewing Reynir’s daughter, Linda, a candle inexplicably falls from the kitchen counter, after which Baldvin and his crew didn’t talk to each other for three hours. “We just sat there thinking ‘what the fuck happened here?’”
Behind the myth
The film, however, isn’t overly-indulgent in the mythology surrounding Reynir and avoids becoming the hagiography some of his family feared. “He never grew up and he didn’t have any sense of responsibility,” Baldvin asserts. He spoke with several psychiatrists as research for the film, and they told him that Reynir’s broken childhood was a big influence on his story. Spending his upbringing in impoverished, remote surroundings, his loneliness was exacerbated by violent foster parents. In adversity, he seemed to garner empowering physical strength, but became emotionally stunted, which goes toward explaining his limitations as a father and role model later in life.
“I tried to tell the story as correctly as I could—of how he left his first wife and left his kids alone without food and how they had nothing afterwards,” Baldvin reiterates. “It is not because he was a dick; he just didn’t know any better.”
Thus, the film’s flirtation with the supernatural is qualified by Reynir’s hamartia, rooting the story in a cold, harsh reality, which makes ‘Beyond Strength’ relatable to a wide audience.
“When I finished the film, I felt like it was a very local story, but of course it’s not. It’s very personal and I think everyone can connect with it, no matter where you are,” Baldvin reflects. At the moment, the title is only showing in Icelandic as ‘Reynir Sterki,’ but a version with English subtitles is nearly ready. Once that is released, it will mark the end of an era for Baldvin, who is now contented with his understanding of Reynir and his family. “I think my wife appreciates it so much that I’m done with this film,” Baldvin concludes.