After watching the movie Memento recently, I learned that it is based on the short story “Memento Mori“ by Jonathan Nolan–the brother of Christopher Nolan, the film’s director. Not knowing what the term Memento mori meant, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and I learned the Latin phrase is translated to mean, “Remember you must die”, and refers to an artistic movement that portrays rather grim reminders of our mortality as human beings and the eventuality of punishment in the afterlife for our misdeeds.
I also learned that Memento mori is related to symbolic works of art popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth century described as Vanitas, which–according to Wikipedia again–is the Latin word for “emptiness”. Common themes in Vanitas paintings include skulls, timepieces, rotting fruit–all intended to serve as reminders of the certainty of death and the brevity of life. An example, Vanitas, painted by Pieter Claesz:
Strangely, I find this type of art motivating–perhaps because it is such stark reminder of how little time we really do have in this world, and that we should make the most of it as best we can.