‘Boy Swallows Universe’ Ending Explained & Series Summary: What Did Red Phone Symbolize?


Boy Swallows Universe, the seven-episode adaptation of Trent Dalton’s novel that goes by the same name, revolves around the lives of two brothers, Eli and Gus. Eli was thirteen years old, wise beyond his years, and the one thing he knew for sure at the time was that his mother and brother were the most important people in his life. Eli’s love for his mother was unconditional; he had seen her during the worst phase of her life, and he always believed that her only fault was that she trusted people too easily. At eight years old, Gus suddenly stopped talking and gained the ability to foresee the future. It all came to him in the form of broken images, and most of the time, his visions came true. The series unfolds from Eli’s perspective, and we watch the family go through tough times only to emerge stronger than ever before.

Spoiler Alert

Why did Gus lose his speech?

After losing his speech, Gus communicated mostly through paintings and drawing letters in the air. The school counselor showed concern upon seeing the reappearing image of a car, but Gus chose to remain silent on the matter. The fact that he recovered his speech after experiencing a traumatic event, proved that it must have been trauma that resulted in the loss of speech in the first place. Gus could die for Eli, and when Ivan Kroll was ready to chop off Eli’s finger, Guess finally spoke.

It is only in Boy Swallows Universe episode 4 that we find out the actual reason behind Gus’ condition. After their stepfather was murdered and their mother was taken to prison, Eli and Gus ended up staying at their birth father’s place. Robert was an alcoholic, and he suffered from anthropophobia, making it extremely difficult for him to navigate life. It was only after he was visited by the school counselor and child protection service that he realized that he needed to sober up. Poppy, the counselor, showed Robert Gus’ artwork with their family car as his primary subject. She added that Eli, too, had similar dreams, and she had enough reason to believe that they were all connected. When he was accused of attempting to murder his boys, Robert broke down. He clarified that he had taken the boys camping but that he and Frankie were going through a difficult time, which was why he was not in a good mood. He resorted to alcohol, and while driving, he suffered a panic attack. He could not bring the speed down while driving into a blind corner, and the car fell into a lake. Robert helped the kids out of the car, and Gus managed to swim to the shore. For a second, he panicked, thinking that he had lost Robert and Eli, but he was relieved upon seeing them. The incident scared Gus so deeply that he lost his speech. Robert regretted his mistake. When the boys overheard the conversation, they entered the room to hug their father. Even though he was a flawed man, the boys announced that they would prefer to stay with him. Robert promised to become a better person for his sons, and it was decided that he would continue to look after the kids. The only person Gus would choose not to have a conversation with later on was Teddy, Lyle’s best friend, who had ratted him out.

Why was Lyle Orlik murdered?

Eli never approved of his mother’s relationship with Lyle. Not that he disliked the man, but Eli strongly believed his mother could do better. But Frankie was in love with Lyle, and she admired her man for putting food on the table and providing them with shelter. Frankie was a teenager when she ran away from her house, and after a failed marriage, Lyle took her in. He got her hooked on drugs, and Eli could never forgive him for doing so. Lyle had never changed his ways, even though he wanted the world to believe he had. He worked at Tytus Broz’s factory to keep the rumors away, but he mostly earned money from drug dealing. Towards the end of Boy Swallows Universe, we learn that Tytus was involved in the drug business, suggesting that Lyle betrayed his trust when he started to deal on his own. He scored heroin from Bich Dang and spiked the drugs to make more profit. Tytus got his trusted man, Ivan Kroll, to get rid of Lyle. Later on, Lyle’s chopped-off leg was discovered on the beach. Initially, it was assumed to be a shark attack, but later, it was confirmed that Lyle was murdered.

What illegal business was Tytus running?

Tytus Broz was a celebrated philanthropist who revolutionized the world of artificial limbs. When Eli started his career as a journalist at the Courier Mail, Caitlyn Spies discussed with him the possibility of Broz being involved in shady business. After Bich Dang’s death, her lawyer handed Caitlyn documents that showed overseas transactions from an account in Vanuatu. Dang had been hiding secrets, and finally, Caitlyn had access to them. The account belonged to Tytus Broz, and she could not help but wonder why he was in business with a Vietnamese restauranteur.

The story was too close to home for Eli. He realized that maybe the sole reason why Tytus employed mostly ex-criminals to work at the warehouse (apart from building a good reputation) was because he provided them as dealers for Bich Dang to sell heroin. While discussing the criminals involved in the business, Eli mentioned Ivan Kroll, the man who chopped off his finger and murdered Lyle. Upon further investigation, Caitlyn discovered that there was a fake company registered under the name of Ivan Kroll, which indicated that they were on the right track. Detective Tim Cotton worked for Tytus Broz, and he warned Ivan when he found out that Caitlyn was conducting an investigation and that she was close to the truth. Cotton had advised Ivan to keep quiet, but instead, Ivan killed the dishonest policeman. Ivan Kroll did not care about playing it safe; he was ready to murder Caitlyn and Eli if need be. Raymond Leary, who once worked with Tytus and had raised a complaint years ago, provided further information that suggested that Tytus had built a medical facility in his backyard. Eli and Caitlyn realized that the facility was key to understanding Tytus’ secret operation.

Tytus asked Eli to interview him, and Caitlyn went along. Tytus wanted to intimidate Eli, but the journalists were not as easy to get rid of. They waited for Tytus to leave for the award ceremony to enter the medical facility. Tytus noticed their car while driving away, and he called Ivan Kroll to take care of the business. Eli and Caitlyn managed to enter the strange basement and came to the conclusion that Tytus was farming human limbs. Dead animal and human remains were found in the basement. It was evident that he was conducting experiments on his victims. Tytus preserved the heads of his victims, and Eli broke down when he saw Lyle among them. Eli decided to carry it as evidence, and soon, he figured out that Ivan Kroll had entered the basement. Eli and Caitlyn managed to escape, and they drove to the award ceremony.

Did Ivan Kroll die?

During Boy Swallows Universe‘s ending, Eli reached the award ceremony and accused Tytus Broz of conducting experiments on human bodies. He pulled out the evidence, and the audience gasped. The police arrived at the scene and arrested Tytus. Caitlyn had informed the police about his backyard experimentation. Even after the arrest, Ivan continued to chase Eli and stabbed him in the abdomen. Robert tried to stop Ivan, and in the process, he was injured. Ivan followed Eli to the clock tower. Gus had anticipated the threat a long time ago, and he was determined to protect his brother anyhow. Just as Ivan was about to stab Eli, Gus pushed him from behind, and he fell from the tower to the ground and died on the spot. Gus had predicted that Eli’s end would come with the death of a blue wren, and Eli believed he was right. The death of the bird symbolizes the death of his past life and the beginning of a promising new journey. 

Boy Swallows Universe ends with Eli waking up in the hospital bed with Caitlyn waiting at the door. The chemistry between the two suggests a romantic possibility. Robert, too, survived his injury, and the family of four started their lives anew. The threat of the past was now gone with Tytus in prison and the world getting to know about his illegal businesses and experiments. After proving his dedication to finding the truth, Eli was chosen to join the crime desk. With an entire series planned on Tytus’ operations, Eli will go on to make a significant contribution. Apart from his philanthropic commitments, Gus took his passion for the arts seriously. Frankie went on to get her college degree, and the family finally found peace. They were living a life that, at one point, seemed like a dream.

What is the significance of the red phone?

The red phone repeatedly makes an appearance in the Boy Swallows Universe. The boys first came across it when they discovered the emergency tunnel. Even though the phone was disconnected, Eli and Gus heard it ringing. They initially did not know who they were talking to, but they later figured that it must have been Gus’ adult self who spoke to them from the future. Adult Gus calling them at present is a magical explanation, and the more logical angle is possibly that the boys imagined the voice to feel confident during terrifying situations. The voice was a reminder that someday, in the future, everything would be alright. Eli found comfort in the voice of his brother, and during his most confusing times, his voice guided him in mysterious ways. Gus often thought that he was not doing enough to protect Eli, but a part of him was always living in Eli’s head, and his adult self was just a call away. Eli answered the red telephone whenever he was threatened or afraid, but at the end of Boy Swallows Universe, the call goes unanswered. The threat was gone, and the need to respond to the red phone dissolved. The red phone was a coping mechanism to find answers when there were none available, and the person he trusted with all his heart always responded.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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