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Inventing Anna

Netflix show about a narcissist everyone should watch

By Lana V LynxPublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 12 min read
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Official Poster for Inventing Anna

I somehow skipped the adventures of real Anna Sorokin aka Delvey in New York when they first were reported by the Vanity Fair and New York magazines. I do not know how the entire media circus of her trial, with all her glitzy dresses and messy hair in court, escaped me. But I am finally caught up, both on “Inventing Anna” Netflix show and the interviews to ABC’s 20/20 and Australian 60 Minutes Anna gave in the short period of time she was between prisons. And I’m still in shock and bewilderment about how people in America can be taken in by the charms of another Russian female con artist (the previous two being infamous spies Anna Chapman and Maria Butina, who were deported back to Russia, returned as heroes and became media darlings in their homeland).

The fact that Anna Sorokin is Russian, even though she almost surely lost her Russianness after years of living in Germany and New York, is what drew me to her story. She probably does not even speak any Russian now and completely disassociated herself from her Russian heritage. This becomes clear when to the question about her Russianness she’d point out that she had been brought to Germany as a little girl and doesn’t remember much from her time in Russia. Nonetheless, as a Russian, I feel both strangely connected to her and ashamed for what she is and does. Especially after I realized she was a narcissist. Let me try to explain.

I’ve met my share of narcissists in over 50 years I live on this earth. Some of them were more benevolent than others, some – outright malignant, dangerous for the people around them. Most of them created all sorts of problems and challenges for me, and a couple left deep scars on my psyche. All those experiences also developed a sensitive and always-tuned-in ‘narcissist radar’ in my head. I could tell Anna Sorokin was a classical narcissist from the first minutes of her real-life interviews. The more I watched the more I realized she was a swindler who worked not a single honest day in her life. That made me even more perplexed by how people could fall under her spell.

Here is my list of the most obvious narcissistic features and behaviors in Anna:

1) She thinks the world revolves around her. She is the center of the Universe who demands constant admiration, flattery and compliments. If she feels hostility toward her in people, she bristles and cuts them off. She scoffed off her 20/20 interview because she felt the program failed to properly tell her story, dissecting her character while being hypocritically encouraging to her face. She stated that she probably wouldn’t watch “Inventing Anna” any time soon either because she was in jail and watching the fictionalized version of herself from there was not something she wanted to do. But sitting in the deportation jail, she readily penned a self-flattering and self-pitting letter, with just a tad of self-deprecating humor added for authenticity, and sent it to the Insider. It’s a masterpiece of self-aggrandizing narcissistic communication.

2) Anna thinks she is smart. In her interviews, she repeatedly stated how shocked she was to realize all those bankers, lawyers, and other New York ‘elites’ she tried to swindle were unbelievably stupid. Since they were stupid, it was their fault that they got into her traps. They should have known better (shifting responsibility onto the victims is a commonly used trick in a narcissist’s toolbox). Anna has openly said that she has yet to meet anyone who is smarter than her. She’d simply scoff you off if she realized that you were smarter or more knowledgeable than her and then avoid you as you’d undermine her feeling of security.

3) Anna is wonderfully, breathtakingly confident. But that’s any good confidence artist’s necessary and sufficient trait. She smells the people who can undermine her confidence from a mile away and would immediately turn the table on them when she figures it out by making them doubt themselves and questioning their abilities and intentions.

4) Anna has an off-the-chart high emotional intelligence, objectively. She can read people’s emotions exceptionally well. This type of emotional intelligence is developed either through practicing deep empathy (which takes time, maturity and wisdom) or by observing and mimicking emotions of others, something sociopaths and narcissists are scarily good at.

5) She thinks she speaks seven languages “freely.” She developed a unique hybrid “European” accent by practicing her speech patterns and mannerisms, probably sitting in front of the mirror for hours at a time. That accent made her both mysterious (as no one could place it correctly) and sophisticated in other people’s eyes. Here is Julia Garner explaining to Jimmy Fallon how she played the character and worked out the accent, and it really is a masterclass in acting and accent mimicking (starts around 5:00). In Inventing Anna, a venture capitalist Anna is trying to cultivate toasts her health in Russian and the toast goes completely over her head. It could have been intentional because she didn’t want him to know she had Russian roots, but I suspect she simply lost her fluency in Russian. I would love to observe her talking to a Chinese person just to see how “freely” she speaks Mandarin she claims to know as well.

6) Anna is acutely aware of how she looks and how other people may perceive her. She is not beautiful, and she knows it. She also knows how to glam up and make herself look beautiful with hair and makeup. Anna Delvey brought to the courtroom from Rikers, albeit all dressed-up by a hired stylist, is a world apart from the post-prison Anna in media interviews. You’d hardly recognize her face if you didn’t know it was the same person. The transformation is remarkable and Julia Garner in Inventing Anna rendered it masterfully as well.

7) Anna’s impeccable taste in clothes is another skill acquired to compensate for her lack of beauty. By wearing clothes that breathed luxury and wealth (and that she could only afford on credit), she not only drew attention away from her face but also created an illusion of a put-together fashion icon who was “born with it.” With that and $100 tips she was throwing around while her bank accounts were bleeding red and credit cards maxed out, it was easy for her to convincingly claim she was a German heiress with a $75-million trust fund.

8) Anna fed her potential marks a dream so big and ambitious – Anna Delvey Foundation as a creative space for artists, housed in one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in New York city, of which she falsely claimed to have secured possession – and with such confidence that very few people questioned its feasibility. Those who did were immediately accused of small-mindedness and inability to understand her genius and vision for a better, more beautiful world. How can anyone stand in Anna’s way if her intentions are so pure and benevolent?

9) Anna is incredibly manipulative. She uses everyone around her. People are objects to her, means to her ends, simple-minded playthings, and the whole world is her playground. Once she is tired of her toy and it does not bring her any more joy, she’d toss it away without regret or even a good memory. When she was asked if she felt bad about hurting the people she conned, she simply answered, “Tell me who you think I hurt and I will tell you if I feel bad about it.” Classical dismissal. She also manipulates people in her inner circle with the disbursement of her (dis)approval: When she is happy with you, she’d gift you with her gentle tinker bell laughter (oh, what wouldn’t people who cared about her give to hear that beautiful laugh!); when she is upset or angry with you, she’d give you a disapproving trademark scoff that would make your heart sink and spring you into action to win back her approval. You’d later even thank her for giving you an opportunity to make things right with her.

10) In interactions with other people, Anna rarely dialogues or converses. She monologues, springs her personal story on you as if it is essential for you to know all the smallest details of that one-of-a-kind, fascinating and captivating book of fantasies. She’d never ask you if you really want to listen to her story because she is afraid to hear “no,” which would be a huge blow to her ego.

11) Anna would not admit her mistakes or take responsibility for her bad actions. The only time she did that was during the parole hearing. She even cried fake tears a little, wiping them off from under her huge prison glasses that made her look more vulnerable. But she only did it because the admission of guilt and fake regrets served her direct purpose of getting out of prison earlier. In interactions with people who have less power over her fate, she would always justify her behavior and shift blame onto others. Gaslighting is another essential skill of successful con artists.

12) Anna is a classical pyramid scammer who was bankrolling her lavish lifestyle by conning people and paying off some portion of her old debt with the newly swindled money. Her getting an overdraft loan from one bank to pay another bank in anticipation of a bigger loan is a classical example of a pyramid move. She got lucky with the Netflix deal that covered the restitution she was ordered to pay to her victims by the New York court. After paying off the court-ordered debt, she was even left with some Netflix money to stay at a luxury hotel in Manhattan before she was apprehended by ICE. Next thing we know, she’ll get a book deal with Harper Collins on her diary from the ICE jail, to pay off her legal fees on the deportation case and stay in luxury hotels wherever she ends up. Or perhaps she will land her own reality TV show deal or go on Bachelorette, or start her own podcast or YouTube channel with lessons on persuasion. Because our (and media’s) fascination with con artists is endless, she will have endless opportunities to monetize our attention.

13) Anna is good at manipulating media. Her Netflix deal in itself is an art of manipulation. But she also manipulates journalists, as it was illustrated in Inventing Anna. Journalists are people too, right? In the 20/20 interview, when Anna is directly asked “Are you conning us?” she seems to be a little taken aback by the bluntness of the question, then scoffs it off, smiles and says, “I don’t know, do you feel conned?” Another typical narcissist trick: Answer a direct question with another question, shift the burden of thinking and responding back to the inquirer. Even the most skillful interviewers seem to be thrown off and numbed by that deeply unethical response, especially when it is accompanied by the most sincere smile a narcissist can fake.

As someone who teaches Ethics of Communication, I could find a lot more examples and tricks to continue this list, but then this essay would turn into a book. It's already at 2,400 words. So I'd stop here and let you find something shocking about Anna for yourself.

There's one more thing, however, that I still cannot get over with and need to get off my chest. It upsets me to no end that smart people who have seen it all can be infatuated with Anna Sorokin. Can't they see right through her?? "What is it about Anna?" is the question Vivienne the journalists in Inventing Anna asks repeatedly as she learns about Anna's next swindling trick. There must be some sort of charm narcissists excude in their immediate presence that fogs up people's judgement. At a distance and on the screen, the charm dissipates, I guess. Because for the life of me I cannot comprehend why her lawyer from the New York state grand larceny and theft of services case seems to hold her in such high regard still, even after he worked endless hours for her virtually pro bono. He still believes she is a good young woman with a great ambition, just a little lost. She simply needs to find her way in this cruel world. Anna’s current lawyer working her deportation case described Anna as a self-made young woman with a big dream who will not be deported and will make something out of her life that everyone would admire.

I guess that remains to be seen. I have little faith that narcissists can be reformed. The temptation to manipulate others to get what you want is always there, and easy to give in for an experienced con artist.

Just for contrast, so that you don't think that all famous Russian women who become the next media sensation are narcissistic and manipualative, here’s a short list of truly self-made Russian women, beautiful inside and out, well-known in the West as well, who achieved something admirable in their lives through hard and honest work:

1) Anna Kournikova, a world-famous tennis star in the recent past, a great philanthropist in the present who builds and supports tennis schools and clinics for the youth and shares in the philanthropic initiatives of her husband, singer Enrique Iglesias.

Anna Kournikova and Enrique Iglesias

2) Svetlana Khodchenkova, one of the biggest TV and movie stars in Russia with the filmography long enough to cover a room with the wallpaper listing her credits. To the western viewers, she’d be known as the Viper in the 2013 Wolverine movie. She’ll also star as Anna Karenina in the upcoming Netflix series.

Svetlana Khodchenkova, Russian movie and TV mega-star

Khodchenkova as Viper

3) Anna Panacheva, a successful entrepreneur and owner of a network of quiz pubs in Miami, the city with one of the largest Russian diasporas in the US

Anna Panacheva

In conclusion: When you watch Inventing Anna (which I highly recommend anyway for its masterful plot construction, suspenseful narration of the story, and superb acting), watch it as a learning exercise in diagnosing narcissistic behavior and identifying the tricks of the trade to protect yourself from a narcissist you may come across. But please don’t keep her in high regard – Anna Sorokin is not a modern-time Robin Hood who redistributed the ill-gained wealth to the deserving poor people. She’d easily use hardworking people and her friends for her own goals, just as she would the uber-rich. I guess that would make her a truly modern equal opportunity con woman.

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About the Creator

Lana V Lynx

Avid reader and occasional writer of satire and dystopia under a pen name of my favorite wild cat.

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  • Robby Tal2 months ago

    Just came across this. I hadn't heard about Anna's story until binging the Netflix series. Intriguing that she was able to pull of what she did, assuming the show is primarily fact-based.

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