Gus Bell In ‘Boy Swallows Universe,’ Explained: What Is QSLR?


Gus Bell from Boy Swallows Universe is the second character from recent times who reminds us of an iconic moment by Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory. It was her opinion of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, where she said that the presence or absence of the lead would not make a difference to the outcome of the story. Similarly, Gus’s visions have had no effect on the series’ overall events.

Gus says that his visions are more random images that seem to be heavily disconnected from each other. Usually, he can guess whether they are referring to an event, but he finds it hard to place much stock in them. Our personal theory is that Gus did not trust his own visions. As a child, there must have been some point when he understood that he was able to see the future. However, none of it ever made sense or was even coherent. Eli was the only person who believed in them, but he was just thirteen years old, and technically, Gus treated him like a kid (which he was) until he saw how far Eli’s optimism could take things. The adults must have often heard about Gus’ visions, but they definitely wrote it off as a silly story by children. One particular scene with Tytus Broz explains that. He met Gus and Eli when they were children, and Eli excitedly told him the story about the rooftop that Gus had seen before it happened. It turned out to have a rather underwhelming end, and for an adult, it sounded like nothing but a silly story. Maybe if the prediction had been something with more substance, Tytus or someone else might have believed that Gus could actually predict the future. However, what we suspect is that Gus actually saw the whole thing through disconnected images, but he was only able to communicate a bit about the rooftop. That is because it was the only thing that was clear to him and which he could explain amongst the messy signals that his brain was receiving.

One of the most noticeable things about Gus was that he did not speak much. Eli said that he stopped speaking at the age of eight and has been silent since. Even when Gus starts again, he is very selective about when he speaks and to whom he speaks, often risking the anger of strangers, like Teddy Kallas. It is unclear why that is so. One explanation is given by Slim Haliday, where he says that if someone could tell the future, they would keep their skill a secret because otherwise, people would flock around them and keep badgering them with questions all the time. Now, there is a little guesswork here, but we are assuming that this is what happened to Gus when he stopped speaking the first time. As a child, maybe Gus said something about his visions, and that led to some bad consequences. Perhaps his prediction turned out to be wrong (misinterpreted), or maybe he was made fun of or bullied by people, or maybe he just couldn’t handle the weight of the confusion and found comfort in his own silence. Maybe Gus understood that the world was not a safe space for a power like his, and the only way he could keep it hidden was if he kept quiet altogether. In the series, we saw that Gus never had a problem letting things go and keeping his head out of trouble, unlike Eli, who learned quite late to draw the line. That is simply because Gus had been practicing that thing for a longer time than Eli.

Was Gus The Guy On The Red Phone?

The one thing that Gus learned over time was that silence was not the answer to his troubles. This was the first thing that the audience was told through Gus’ teacher, and it is the most important lesson that Gus learned in the series. While it did not have any effect on the narrative of Boy Swallows Universe, there are some loose ends that it can help answer. First of all, we suspect that Gus was working with Lyle before the latter’s death. There is a lot about Gus that hasn’t been explored or answered, and a fair chunk of that certainly extends to the events of the series. Gus wasn’t as complacent as he looked, and if Eli was tailing Lyle to see whether he got in trouble, Gus was trying to help in his own way. Maybe he had some vision that he warned Lyle about or helped him with some deal. We are guessing that Gus had a vision of his stepfather being dragged away and being killed. He may or may not have warned Lyle about it, but the fact that Lyle signaled “QSLR” to him signifies that Gus knew what that meant. We suspect that Gus lied to Eli about not knowing the meaning of that, since he must have wanted to protect his little brother. Most of Gus’ visions are about the violence in his loved ones’ lives, and that is why we believe that he knew a lot more than he was telling.

In the future, when Gus tells Eli about the vision he had about them and their mother being attacked by Teddy, Eli says, “Thanks for telling me.” That implies that Eli still believed in Gus’ visions. Growing up had not changed that. This implied that Eli continued to be the safe space for Gus.

Gus had previously said that he might be the guy on the red phone, calling Eli from the future. Keeping in mind the guy’s messages on the phone, they had always been clues as to what was going on or what could happen that the brothers should prepare for. This perfectly coincided with Gus’ visions, and that is why he may have believed that he was the man on the phone, calling from the future. The full scope of Gus’ visions was never fully explored. Considering that Boy Swallows Universe is a semi-autobiographical novel, it is easy to say that Gus’ visions could have been the fiction part of the story (we haven’t read the book). This opens speculation for the science fiction arc of the story. Perhaps Gus’ access to the future extended beyond visions, and at some point in the future, he was able to access the past, which enabled him to make the phone calls that he did. At some point, Gus may have wanted to make up for his silence, which cost his family dearly, if he indeed knew about the turn things were going to take. The phone calls would be his way of making sure things were different. Or perhaps they were what shaped the narrative that happened.

A second possibility is that perhaps Gus was not alone in having his powers. Maybe there were others like him who were protecting him, and those phone calls were made by them as part of their protection. Whether or not Gus was the one making those calls, they were certainly connected to him. 

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Divya Malladi
Divya Malladi
Divya spends way more time on Netflix and regrets most of what she watches. Hence she has too many opinions that she tries to put to productive spin through her writings. Her New Year resolution is to know that her opinions are validated.

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