'The Hidden Life of Trees' Brings the Wildly Complex World of the Woods to Life

The documentary follows forester and author Peter Wohlleben and his bestselling book.

Constantin Film
Constantin Film
Constantin Film

If you’re hip to what the conservationists and ecologists and nature documentarians of the world have been chatting about these days, or if you simply think plants are kinda interesting, you’ve probably heard of Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, the international bestseller that acts both as a naturalist’s handbook of German forestry, and an exhilarating and illuminating body of knowledge about some of nature’s oldest and deceptively complex organisms.

We don’t think of trees as feeling sensations, or smelling, or hearing, or experiencing emotion-and why would we? They basically just stand around, dropping their greenery once a year and growing back again a little bit lusher, a little bit taller a few months later. But Wohlleben, through his work managing a forest in western Germany, has come to understand the woods as more of a superorganism, constantly trading information, nutrients, and generational traits between its sylvan members, an infinite web of connections that humans are only now beginning to understand. Wohlleben and his first book are the subjects of Jörg Adolph’s documentary The Hidden Life of Trees, out in theaters now, which follows Wohlleben and his efforts to educate his audiences about the richness of life found in the most unexpected of places.

“These trees are a couple,” Wohlleben explains to a tour group early in the film, gesturing at the twin crowns of two enormous trees that look as if they’re branching away from each other, so as not to block out their companion’s sunlight. He sheepishly amends “couple” to “group,” a more unromantic, non-emotional term that biologists tend to prefer (it’s generally unwise to ascribe human-like traits to non-humans), before saying again that he prefers his previous word. How else would you describe two living beings who seem to be intentionally helping each other?

This is the way Wohlleben tends to fashion his descriptions of what he sees in the woods: not with the sterility of a scientist but with a sense of familiarity and kinship with the world around him. “Mother” trees will “suckle” their “children” growing at the base of their matriarch’s roots by sending extra nutrients to help them grow; a stand of three oak trees will choose different times at which to drop their leaves for the winter, based on how “sensible” they are; plants communicate through root systems connected by fungal mycelial networks collectively termed the “Wood-Wide Web.” A spruce in the middle of a desolate plain in Sweden, dubbed Old Tjikko, is estimated to be more than 9,000 years old.

The documentary accompanies these revelations with gorgeous views of old growth forests and lush timelapses of mushrooms, mosses, and seedlings putting out roots and unfurling their first leaves, as well as devastating shots of clear-cut land crisscrossed by the wheel tracks of enormous industrial machines. The only time the soft-spoken Wohlleben seems genuinely upset is when he surveys the damage left behind when the water-bearing trunks and nutrient-rich ash of a forest fire, the perfect breeding ground for a healthy new generation of plants, was completely scrubbed from the landscape, wasted.

In a time when the natural world is at the forefront of our minds-climate change serving up new devastating headlines every day, overheating cities encouraging urban planners to plant more green spaces to naturally and sustainably cool us off, millennia-old indigenous practices of maintaining species populations and tracking migratory paths only now being considered worthy of the term “science” by the West-a film like this, and the work it was inspired by, and the new age of understanding it encourages, is a source of hope, the knowledge imparted within indisputable and precious.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.