Top Image: Netflix
This review contains mild spoilers
One of the greatest scams in modern history was committed by Anna Delvey (or rather, Anna Sorokin). Money is the root of all evil, or so they say. This is ostensibly what led Anna Delvey (played by Julia Garner) to con so many people, commit fraud, and scam so many people out of their money.
But that’s not what Anna Delvey is all about—or at least, not the Anna Delvey portrayed in Inventing Anna. Money is important to her in the same way that it’s important to all of us—it’s a means to an end, it’s the ticket to comfort, it’s what money can do that matters the most. But when you peel back the layers, there’s a deep longing, a need to leave her mark on the world, an urge to leave behind a legacy.
That, to me, is the true message of Inventing Anna. Even for a conwoman, leaving a legacy behind and having people remember her the right way is more important than conning billions out of people.
The show is based on the real-life Anna Sorokin, a Russian scammer who posed as German heiress Anna Delvey and conned countless New York socialites (and hotels and banks) of their money, as she made a splash on the scene as the latest It Girl in 2017. This Netflix series is a dramatisation of the events that took place, and as it likes to remind us with this title card every episode: This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.
You may wonder—who are we to know whether this is the real story of what happened with Anna Sorokin? Well, after news of her misdeeds went public, she was incarcerated, and her misadventures detailed in a lengthy article published on The Cut written by journalist, Jessica Presler. The article served as a blueprint for Inventing Anna.
Fun fact: Netflix paid Sorokin a hefty $320,000 for the rights to her story, essentially paying a con artist (with no money) with real money. If that’s not an indication of what the real Sorokin is like, I don’t know what is. So yes, this is the real Anna Sorokin’s story, brought to life by the effable Shonda Rhimes, filtered through the lens of Netflix dramatisation.
However, we’re not here to debate what the real Sorokin is like. We’re here to look at what Inventing Anna’s characterisation makes her out to be and whether it hews close to reality or not. And for this fictional Anna that we see, it becomes more apparent with each passing episode that money may be what she’s after, but what she really wants is something far, far more valuable.
Each of the nine episodes in the series follows one of Anna’s marks – be they friends, business associates or lovers. We know where this is heading, because the series starts with Anna already in jail.
The episodes are flashbacks to Anna’s high life, as intrepid reporter Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) seeks to uncover the truth behind this overconfident but enigmatic con artist. Some time pressure is added by giving Kent an unnecessary pregnancy, which ends up not being an obstacle at all, but more of some additional drama to justify what would otherwise be such a point-of-view character in the show.
But is Anna that conniving? Does she really have that much guile to hoodwink so many people? The series paints her as an ambitious individual who also happens to have the ability to make people care for her when really it’s the other way around. There’s vulnerability in her because she dares to go after what she wants, and that is what draws people to her.
And although she manages to con millions out of the people around her, she states that it’s not (all) about the money. When she’s discussing her sentencing with lawyer Todd Spodek (Arian Moayed), she expresses that she’d rather go to jail than have the world think of her as an incompetent lass. It goes beyond mere human pride—it’s the legacy she wants to leave in her wake.
So when her dutiful lawyer has no choice but to portray her as less than competent in order to secure a lighter sentence for her, it’s a Pyrrhic victory for her. In some sense, it’s not even a victory—she goes to jail, and on the record for never having been close to achieving her goals.
It says a lot about her character that she wants to leave behind an Anna Sorokin who will be remembered and spoken of in her own terms, rather than what history dictates. That even though it seems like she would die if she weren’t living in the lap of luxury all the time, money isn’t as important to her as the gift she leaves to the world—herself.
It speaks to that latent urge in all of us to leave behind our mark on the world, to have a legacy. True, we all want money—nobody I know passed on the Toto Hong Bao Draw this Lunar New Year (it’s $16 million at stake, after all). But beyond that, what we would fight for, and die for, is a legacy.
Just like Anna Sorokin.
Directors: David Frankel, Ellen Kuras, Nzingha Stewart, Tom Verica, and Daisy von Scherler Mayer.
Writers: Carolyn Ingber, Nicholas Nardini, Shonda Rhimes, Abby Ajayi, Jess Brownell, Matt Byrne, and Juan Carlos Fernandez.
Cast: Anna Chlumsky (Vivian Kent), Julia Garner (Anna Delvey), Arian Moayed (Todd Spodek), Katie Lowes (Rachel Williams), Alexis Floyd (Neff Davis)
Running Time: 9 episodes of 58-82 min
Inventing Anna is available on Netflix.