I Got My Hands on a Bootleg of Iran’s Weird Drone Movie
‘Mohajer’ is a lot of fun… even without subtitles
Mohajer is a 1990 movie about the final days of the 1980s Iran-Iraq War and the early days of killer drones. It’s a strange and amazing film that fetishizes unmanned aerial vehicles and kills off—I mean, martyrs—pretty much every one of its major characters.
It wasn’t easy and the results aren’t pretty, but I managed to procure a bootleg copy. The quality is poor. It doesn’t have English subtitles. Still—Mohajer is a fascinating artifact of an important era. And I kind of dug it.
Iran is a drone power … and Mohajer explains how it all started. The film follows the actions of a group of men that, for lack of subtitles, I’m calling Drone Division. The division is intent on proving that its model airplanes — equipped with cameras and rocket launchers — are a better way to wage war.
The division operates in two groups. Home Team sets up the drone, launches it and pilots it by remote control.
The three-man Forward Team operates in secret near the target. One soldier guards the group while a second soldier on a radio talks with the team back home. A third soldier waits with a remote control, ready to take over flying the drone once it’s close enough.
In the beginning, everything is going well for Drone Division. Its first mission proves that drones can function as aerial spies. The drone makes several passes over Iraqi lines, snapping dozens of pictures and identifying targets.
The action intensifies when the pilot attempts to fire the drone’s crude weapons—really, just standard rocket-propelled grenade launchers attached to the wings.
The robot operator steers the drone over a guard tower twice, firing on it each time and missing. The third time, he closes his eyes. He places his faith in the drone and God’s will. He presses the button. The rockets find their mark. The tower explodes.
Mohajer repeats this moment over and over. When all seems lost and grenades explode and bullets whiz by Drone Division’s ears, the men close their eyes and turn their lives over to God and technology.
These moments are strange. They always include footage from the drone’s point of view. It’s as if the men become one with the robot. Or perhaps the movie is implying that God is in the drone. Again, I didn’t have subtitles.
Near the end of the film, one of the drone pilots—a man with a penchant for sadly playing the flute in the swamp all by himself—risks everything to fly one more mission.
There are unexpected problems and the operator thinks he has lost his machine. The drone’s dramatic return and the pilot’s reaction play like that old movie trope of lovers running toward each other in slow motion. The man even embraces the drone after it lands.
Mohajer portrays the drone pilots as incredibly brave. Every battle Drone Division fights seems like it’s about to go really badly. Iraqis assault from the swamp, toss grenades and fire AK-47s. Iranian soldiers adjust their helmets, take cover and fire back. The pilots of the Drone Division do not.
They wear helmets only when ordered to do so. They stand tall, staring at the drone, willing it to fly just a little bit farther. Their fellow soldiers yell and try to pull them to safety, but the Drone Division pilots refuse. They do not fear bullets. They must complete their mission.
This gets most of them killed. The final reel of the film follows the Forward Drone Division’s efforts to launch one last drone before the Iraqis swarm their position. The two remaining operators attach their dog tags to the drone. One soldier rushes the Iraqis, distracting them long enough for the pilot to launch the machine.
The Iraqis hit the pilot in the shoulder. He rushes into the reeds. They chase him and toss grenades. He stands up, eyes ever on the drone. A grenade explodes next to him and he falls. The final shots are close-ups of the dog tags sparkling in the sun. The image dissolves into clear blue sky and bright sun.
Like the souls of the brave Drone Division rode that robot all the way to Paradise.