‘Boy Swallows Universe’ True Story, Explained: Are Gus And Slim Based On Real-Life People?


Boy Swallows Universe is one of those series that creates gut-wrenching conflicts, and considering how you know that it is based on real-life events, you just hope that some specific events did not happen in real life and nobody had to go through such a crisis. The series is based on the best-selling novel written by Trent Dalton, and as the author puts it, his work is semi-autobiographical in nature. So obviously, Trent Dalton has amalgamated reality with his imagination, and he has woven a narrative that leaves you empathizing with the plight of the protagonist, who in this case is a 12-year-old boy named Eli Bell, and his family too. You fall short of words to describe what Felix Cameron has been able to achieve, playing the character of Eli Bell. He is ably supported by Lee Tiger Halley, who plays the character of Gus Bell, his on-screen brother. Phoebe Tonkin plays the mother of the boys, Frankie Bell, and her nuanced performances make sure that the audience understands the kind of internal discord she faces as a recovering drug addict.

Dalton says that he takes inspiration for the character of Eli Bell from his own life, where he conjoins what happened in real life with his “wishful thinking,” mainly because, as a child, he felt like doing certain things, which obviously were not possible for him to do. Through his novel, Dalton has found a way to relive those moments and make the kind of amends that he knew were too good to be true. We can’t imagine the kind of trauma a 12-year-old would have gone through, but despite that, he kept on chasing life and made sure he achieved the kind of position in society that he aspired to achieve.

Is Slim Halliday inspired by a real-life person?

Just like Eli, Trent Dalton was living in Brisbane, and both his mother and stepfather were peddling drugs in reality. He knew that they were asking for trouble, and one day they would be put behind bars by the law enforcement authorities, but indulging in illegal acts made sure that there was always food on their table. As a matter of fact, Trent Dalton was acquainted with Arthur Slim Halliday in real life. Slim was often referred to as the Houdini of Boggo Road, and he was infamously known for escaping prison approximately six times, though he was arrested in the end for the murder of a taxi driver, a fact that is mentioned in Boy Swallows Universe. We don’t know if Trent shared the exact same relationship with Slim as shown in the series, but he did know him, and the former learned a thing or two about life from the escape artist. Slim and Eli’s bond in the film is beyond beautiful, and as the latter said, he was like a father figure to him. Eli always turned to Slim if he needed any advice, and it was through his contacts that he was able to send letters to his mother in prison. Slim’s demise deeply distressed Eli, and at that point, he felt as if he had lost his support system. Slim also loved Eli, and he formed a very unlikely bond with him. Slim made sure that Eli was out of trouble once Frankie confessed to the crimes she hadn’t committed, just to keep her sons out of trouble.

Did Trent Dalton actually break into the prison?

Trent’s mother did serve her sentence for a few months, and according to him, it was excruciatingly difficult to not have her around, especially during Christmas time. Resources might have been scarce, but there was an abundance of love in the family, and when Trent’s mother was not around, he felt a void, and all he desired was to be reunited with his family. In the series, it is shown that Eli went inside the prison to meet his mother, but that didn’t happen in real life. Trent never went inside the prison, but when he wrote his book, he remembered the feeling he had during that time, and that’s why he made his character do what he couldn’t. Trent Dalton says that during the time his mother wasn’t around, he just wanted to somehow go to prison and meet her. Amidst such chaos, such depravity, and such struggle, it was probably the love that was there between the family that kept Trent Dalton going on. It was very easy for him to indulge in all sorts of illicit activities, but as we saw in the series, Eli was very sure that he wanted to leave his past behind and start a life that he had always imagined.

Was Gus Inspired By A Real-Life Person?

Trent Dalton had three brothers, Joel, Ben, and Jess, and it could be safely assumed that Gus’s character was a sort of amalgamation of the ideologies of the three brothers and the importance they held in Trent’s life. As Trent Dalton puts it, a lot of what is written in the book is him trying to process everything that happened and additionally trying to make sense of it. We saw in the series how close Eli was to his elder brother Gus, and the most fascinating thing was that, at times, the former took on the role of an aggressor, and Gus let him do it. There were times when Gus very courteously asked him if he needed help, but young Eli was always very sure about the fact that he would have to fight his own battles and couldn’t escape from them forever.

Trent Dalton says that he had a red phone at his grandparent’s house, where he used to live for a period of time when his mother was in prison, and he decided to keep it in his book to symbolize the state of unawareness that he was in, as at that point in time he didn’t know that he was dealing with trauma and his actions, behavior, and mood were being impacted in ways and means that he couldn’t imagine. 

For me personally, Boy Swallows Universe is a story of resilience; it is a story of grit and determination. Today, Trent Dalton has achieved that “respectable” status that he once thought he and his family couldn’t get, and he agrees that had it not been for the love and support his family provided, he would have never been able to reach where he is today.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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